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Thousands Flee Canadian Forest Fires

August 2, 2003

KAMLOOPS, British Columbia (AP) _ Wildfires have driven nearly 7,500 people from their homes and burned dozens of houses in the British Columbia town of Barriere, emergency officials said.

At least 60 homes and a sawmill were destroyed Friday in the town, about 30 miles north of Kamloops, said Bob Buglsag of the provincial emergency program.

The British Columbia government declared a state of emergency in the affected area.

Residents were shepherded to Kamloops, along with people from neighboring McLure and its surrounding area, where the fire broke out Wednesday. It has spread to 16 square miles.

About 7,500 people had been forced from their homes by Friday night, said Cathy Piazza, chief information officer for the provincial emergency program.

Residents fled as a new fire jumped a highway and inched perilously close to the Kamloops suburb of Rayleigh. Several hundred residents had to be ferried across the North Thompson River by Department of Fisheries and Oceans boats, said Cpl. Mike Stewart of Kamloops Royal Canadian Mounted Police.

Premier Gordon Campbell said the state of emergency was aimed at helping crews fighting fires in McLure and surrounding areas, and to ensure a coordinated response to evacuating residents threatened by the expanding wildfires.

``This is the worst situation we’ve had and the driest circumstances that we’ve measured in the last 50 years,″ Campbell said. ``In all likelihood British Columbians have never lived through a drier forest situation than we are living through this summer.″

The fire apparently was started Wednesday by a discarded cigarette, fire information officer Kevin Matuga said. Fanned by high winds, it exploded Thursday night.

The blaze was too hot for firefighters to approach, especially ``with the kind of volatile situation we’re seeing right now, the ever-changing and shifting winds,″ Matuga said.

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