Western Canada wildfires force tens of thousands to flee 

KELOWNA  - Fires ravaging western Canada gained more ground on Sunday as two blazes merged and residents continued to evacuate. 

Rapidly evolving wildfires threatened large parts of the sce­nic Okanagan Valley, including the city of Kelowna, British Co­lumbia. The situation in the popular boating and hiking destination was “highly dynamic,” said Bowinn Ma, the province’s minister of emergency manage­ment. “Do not travel to fire-affected areas of the province for tour­ism,” she added Sunday. 

Around 30,000 peo­ple were under evacu­ation orders while another 36,000 were under alert to be ready to flee, she said. Kelow­na, a city of 150,000, was choked with thick smoke as it became the latest population center hit by one of the many wildfires scorching Canada this summer. “It has been horrible to spend the week with this air. It is horrible to breathe,” Mary Hicks, a 29-year-old IT worker who had been visiting the region from Mon­treal, told AFP on Sun­day. “I really want to go home.” But she was stuck there for now, with her return flight canceled. The airport hopes to resume flights this week, depending on visibility. 

“When I had to pack, in the moment I was crying, crying, crying,” said April, 39, who with her two small children fled her home east of Kelowna and was staying in a hotel outside the city. On the other side of Okana­gan Lake, a number of homes on the outskirts of West Kelowna had been burned, though authorities remained optimistic that the city could avoid a full evacuation. Some resi­dents remained wor­ried, however. “My sister’s boyfriend’s house has burnt down. He lives in the West Kelowna side and it was so windy that the fire was spreading and they couldn’t control it,” said Bogi Bagosi, a 16-year-old student. 

“It’s kind of heart­breaking to watch the city burn down. They are doing the best to stop it but it is not enough.” Blazes in the neighboring Northwest Territories have mean­while prompted the evacuation of regional capital Yellowknife, leaving the remote city of around 20,000 largely a ghost town. Overnight rains brought some re­lief to Yellowknife on Saturday, however, “a little rain does not mean it’s safe to come back home,” warned North­west Territories envi­ronment minister Shane Thompson.

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