Wildfires prompt northern Saskatchewan evacuations

Wed Jul 2, 2008 6:51pm EDT
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CALGARY, Alberta (Reuters) - About 2,000 people in northern Saskatchewan were evacuated from their homes as dozens of wildfires threatened small communities in the Western Canadian province, officials said on Wednesday.

As of Wednesday morning, 64 fires were burning in Saskatchewan. The region surrounding the town of La Ronge, 385 km (240 miles) north of Saskatoon, was hardest hit with 48 blazes, according to the provincial environment department.

There had been no reports of houses or other buildings burned as about 470 firefighters battled the wildfires and dense smoke covered the region.

Dry conditions, and no rain in the forecast, prompted the government to ban open fires in most of northern Saskatchewan.

Some cooler temperatures and lighter winds across the region slowed the fires' progress on Wednesday, environment ministry spokeswoman Jeanette Krayetski said.

"It's given the firefighters a good opportunity to do some really good direct attack on fires, securing the lines closest to the communities using air tankers, cats, manpower," Krayetski said.

"However, the one thing that isn't in the mix right now is any significant precipitation for the next three or four days, and temperatures will be rising."

Numerous fires, mostly small, were also burning in the Pacific Coast province of British Columbia. More crews were sent on Wednesday to help contain a 130-hectare (321-acre) fire on Jackass Mountain near Lytton, British Columbia, that has forced a partial closure of the Trans Canada Highway.

The fire in the steep terrain began on Sunday when a recreational vehicle towing another car burst into flames while traveling on the busy highway through the Fraser River Canyon.

No homes were threatened, but officials had to restrict travel out of fear that boulders loosened as surrounding trees burned would roll down the mountainside onto the highway.

(Reporting by Jeffrey Jones in Calgary and Allan Dowd in Vancouver; Editing by Peter Galloway)