July 4, 2006

Wildfires force evacuations in Western Canada

VANCOUVER, British Columbia (Reuters) - Forest fires in two
Canadian provinces have forced the evacuation of at least 5,500
people living in rural and northern communities, officials said
on Tuesday.

About 3,500 residents of Tumbler Ridge, in the northeast
region of the Western Canadian province of British Columbia,
were ordered out of their homes late on Monday as a forest fire
raged toward the community and crews used heavy equipment and
helicopters struggled to control the 11,000-hectare Hourglass

No injuries were reported, and the evacuated residents were
given emergency shelter in neighboring towns.

Tumbler Ridge is about 1,150 km northeast of Vancouver, not
far from the Alberta border.

The fire, which was burning about 20 km northeast of the
coal mining and forest industry town, was started last week by
a lightning strike, according to the British Columbia Forest

Lightning and warm and dry conditions have caused many of
the 109 wild fires burning in northern Saskatchewan -- also in
Western Canada -- placing six communities under evacuation
orders and threatening three others, said Steve Roberts of
Saskatchewan Environment during a press conference on Tuesday.

"Most of those are either just being held or are out of
control," Roberts said of the forest fires.

Over 64 fires affected areas of more than 100 hectares (250
acres) each in size and 17 fires were estimated at 10,000 ha
(25,000 acres).

While the number of fires is within the province's 10-year
average, the high number of simultaneous large fires is
straining its fire-fighting abilities, Roberts said.

More than 1,900 evacuees have been registered, while some
people have remained in the communities in a bid to protect
infrastructure, said emergency coordinator Richard Kent.

"We've got fires that have actually encroached to the edge
of the communities themselves," Kent said.

Significant structural damage had not been reported.