TORONTO – The worst fire season in a half-century in the western province of British Columbia (search) has forced more than 8,500 residents from their homes, officials said Saturday. No deaths were reported.
Fires near Kamloops (search), about 150 miles northeast of Vancouver, forced thousands to evacuate Friday. More evacuation orders on Saturday pushed the evacuee toll to 8,500, the largest number of people displaced by fire in the province in decades.
B.C. Premier Gordon Campbell (search) declared a state of emergency, calling this the province's worst fire season in 50 years.
Wind-swept hot and dry conditions fueled the Kamloops fires over an area of at least 33 square miles by Saturday afternoon.
The fire torched the small town of Louis Creek, 30 miles north of Kamloops, destroying its sawmill and 60 homes, said Cathi Piazza, a spokeswoman for the B.C. Provincial Emergency Program.
Nearby Barriere lost 25 homes, four businesses and a sawmill after its 2,800 residents fled Friday afternoon, Piazza said. Interior Health Authority spokesman Dave Poulin said a 53-year-old man suffered burns to his face and upper body.
"Apparently he was helping a neighbor hose down his house when his clothes caught on fire," Poulin said, adding the man was in critical but stable condition and would be transferred to Vancouver for treatment.
In the neighboring province of Alberta, another huge forest fire forced about 1,000 people out of Crowsnest Pass in the Rocky Mountains on Saturday.
There are more than 320 active fires in British Columbia. It's believed that more than 170 were caused by people and the rest by lightning.
More than 108 square miles have been burned so far and the effort to combat them involves about 1,800 firefighters and costs about $1.75 million per day.
Campbell said firefighting crews were coming from other provinces and the United States.
As fires continued marching through tinder-dry forest and grassland, Environment Canada forecast temperatures reaching 91 and winds gusting to 30 miles an hour, with the outlook through Tuesday little better.