KELOWNA, British Columbia (AP) – A wildfire burned through orchards and vineyards Saturday, advancing to the edge of this city and forcing thousands to flee their homes ahead of flames that towered up to 400 feet.

Authorities have evacuated some 30,000 people from homes in the suburbs of the city of Kelowna in recent days. Another 11,000 people were on evacuation alert.

Police with bullhorns moved through neighborhoods urging people to leave as the 42,000-acre fire advanced toward the city of 100,000 people.

The fire has destroyed at least 200 homes and possibly up to 300, according to fire official in Kelowna, about 170 miles east of Vancouver.

Firefighters have stopped trying to contain the fire and are focused on protecting homes and other buildings, Capt. Dale MacPherson of the Canadian Army said.

Winds seemed to be keeping the fire from advancing on the city and rain was in the forecast for Sunday, but authorities could not say when they would have control of the situation.

“We’re not out of the woods yet,” said Lt. Peter Cole of the Kelowna Fire Department. “The dragon’s just woke up. We’re pretty apprehensive right now because it’s starting to get closer to higher density buildings.”

Karen Cairns, information officer for the Regional District of Central Okanagan, said flames were being fanned by 45 mph winds.

“I guess you could call it a worst case scenario. Your house is either standing or it’s gone. There’s no half measures with this thing.”

The flames forced some firefighters to the shores of Okanagan Lake, where they were evacuated by boats Friday. The firefighters were trapped by flames and battled their way out.

The flames have been fueled by tinder dry conditions caused by below average rainfall. High winds coupled with evening lightning storms have worsened the situation.

Carol Suhan, a spokeswoman for the Kelowna fire department, said authorities have planned for the worst everyday and seen it happen.

“The mood is disbelief,” she said. “It’s a pretty nasty fire today. The fire was moving very very fast today along the south and east perimeters of the city.”

No amount of urging was going to convince Barb Roth to leave her home in the rapidly emptying Mission neighborhood, despite the sight of a house burning just blocks away.

“They threatened to handcuff and drag me out of here,” said Roth. “But we’re not going to burn here.”

As Roth spoke and menacing flames flickered within eyesight, two children splashed in her home’s pool.

British Columbia Premier Gordon Campbell toured the burned out areas Friday. He said he felt sick so many people were being forced to flee their homes.

“It is truly staggering to see this from the air,” Campbell said. “The smoke seems to be endless.”

AP-ES-08-23-03 1453EDT



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