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Evacuation order lifted for 2,300 resident of Lillooet BC: mayor

Forests Minister Pat Bell says ministry staff have handed out 54tickets to tourists, campers and residents who have been careless withfire in the woods.

Everyone living in Lillooet, B.C., can go home now that the flames
threatening the town have stabilized, but despite the hellish horror
that will keep them on edge, others in the province don't seem to get
it.


Forests Minister Pat Bell says ministry staff have handed out 54
tickets to tourists, campers and residents who have been careless with
fire in the woods.

He said last weekend when he was camping, he donned his Forests
Ministry ball cap to confront some neighbours who had started a
campfire, despite a province-wide ban.

"I did not have my ticket book there. If I had, they certainly
would have received probably not just a $345 fine, but an
administrative penalty as well," he told reporters Thursday.

At its closest point, the Mount McLean forest fire came within
one kilometre of Lillooet. Crews did a controlled back burn of the
woods above the town, creating spectacular night-time flames on the
hills just above the town


Lillooet Mayor Dennis Bontron said Thursday the 2,300 residents of his town will be happy to be home.


"It is good news. It's been a long time coming and I really thank everybody for being patient," the mayor said.


The residents will remain on evacuation alert.

But thousands of other B.C. residents are still out of their
homes because of a handful of other forests fires encroaching on
communities.

The largest of the evacuation orders is in Fintry, where
exhausted residents have been told to leave twice when that fire on the
west side of Okanagan Lake jumped the fire guard.

And 10 to 15 homes near Lillooet, mostly on First Nations land
between the town and Lytton, have been told to leave their homes on
Friday while officials complete a controlled burn in the area.


Despite the upheaval for residents, Bell calls the battle against the provincial forests fires an "incredible success."

Three homes were lost in the Glenrosa forest fire in West
Kelowna last month, but the minister said no lives have been lost and
there have been few injuries.

"We have an incredible military operation across the province,"
Bell said of the 400 aircraft, 4,000 personnel and 1,000 pieces of
equipment being used to fight the fires.


Bell said the fire situation is the worst he's seen in his lifetime with 825 fires currently burning in the parched forests.


"The ground is very, very dry and very dangerous," Bell said.

But besides dry conditions, the B.C. First Nations Forestry
Council said the provincial and federal governments should share some
blame for the fire crisis.


Council President Leonard Thomas said the governments' "political deafness to the warnings" led to the catastrophe.

"First Nations and others have been warning for years that the
pine beetle that devastated the Northern and Interior forests had
created a tinderbox waiting for a spark," Thomas said in a news
release.

The council said the B.C. government limited funds to address
the problem before the fires started and then refused to press the
federal government to deliver the $100 million a year for 10 years that
had been promised to B.C.

The hundreds of B.C. firefighters battling the blazes have been
bolstered by colleagues from across Canada, as well as 30 senior
Australian and New Zealand specialists who arrived Thursday.

"For us it's an honour to be actually asked to come and work
here in Canada," said Geoff Pike, a firefighter from the state of
Victoria, where wildfires took 210 lives last February.


Canadian firefighters worked in Victoria in 2007 and during the most recent deadly fire season, said Pike.


"We'd like to be able to return that favour," he said.

Colleague Michael Morley said the visiting firefighters got an
ovation from fellow passengers on the Vancouver-bound Air Canada flight
and were treated to free champagne.


"Quite inspiring."


About a third of the 23 Australian and seven New Zealand firefighters have worked on blazes in California and Idaho.

The visitors will get a day or so of orientation and be fitted
with equipment before heading to Kamloops for deployment, said Gene
Desnoyers of the B.C. Forest Service.

They'll work with existing first-line teams before replacing
those who are reaching the mandatory threshold for a rest break, he
said.


"We certainly see the fatigue factor settling in," said Desnoyers.

"We're looking at still a potential four to five weeks of
continuous action, so we want to manage the fatigue factor as a
significant safety item."


The Austrailians and New Zealanders are expected to be in B.C. for at least a month.

Maureen Adams, a Glenrosa resident who was chased from her home
in July because of the fast-moving fire, said firefighters did a
marvellous job.

"It could have been so much worse. We're really blessed that
everybody put forth the effort to save everything that they could. You
have to respect Mother Nature. There's no getting around her," she
laughed.

While most Glenrosa residents were allowed to return home once
the fire was contained, Adams couldn't go back immediately because of
the smoke damage through the house.


She said the Red Cross helped with everything from food to making sure their home was livable again.

Adams, 45, her husband and three sons just returned to their
home Tuesday, six days after most other West Kelowna residents were
allowed to go home.


The provincial government's budget to fight the fires has also gone up in smoke.

The original estimate for fighting fires was set at $62 million,
but that bill has more than doubled to $135.5 million and Bell said his
government is talking with Ottawa in hopes the federal government
shares some of the costs.


In the meantime, many more government staff will be in the woods this weekend watching for anyone flouting fire rules.

"There's not going to be any warnings anymore for anyone caught
in the bush, whether it's discarding a cigarette or lighting a
campfire. It will immediately lead to a fine," said Bell.


Those fines range from $173 for a tossed cigarette to $1 million and even prison time.


"We need everyone to know that this is going to start hitting them in the wallet," Bell said.

 
 
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