Thousands flee wildfires in Western Canada

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SHAFAQNA - Raging wildfires in Western Canada forced more than 13,000 from their homes Monday in Saskatchewan, the biggest evacuation in the province’s history.

More than 600 firefighters are trying to contain the blazes and 1,000 members of the armed forces have been called in to help.

Residents are being put up in emergency shelters in several cities as hot weather, dry conditions and lightning strikes have combined to create one of the worst years for forest fires.

“This is absolutely the biggest evacuation we’ve experienced in Saskatchewan,” Red Cross spokeswoman Cindy Fuchs told reporters.

Meanwhile in British Columbia, more than 50 new wildfires broke out over the weekend, enlarging the number to 178 and forcing evacuations in many communities.

Smoke hung over Vancouver and ashes landed on buildings and cars. The air quality index – a measure alerting those with breathing problems such as asthma to remain indoors – was recorded at “very high risk”.

Forest fires occur every year in Western Canada, but the blazes have arrived earlier than usual and it is shaping up to be a record year due to heat and lightning strikes.

“Why we’ve seen this severe situation so early has been the weather conditions,” B.C. provincial fire information officer Kevin Skrepnek told Global television. “Almost all of the lower mainland, most of the Vancouver Island and big areas of northeastern and central B.C. are in extreme fire danger rating. It’s unusual for this time of year [and] there’s no relief in sight in the weather forecast. We’re expecting temperatures in the mid 30s (Celcius) and absolutely no rain in the near future. That’s definitely a cause for concern.”

In the Lac La Ronge area 380 kilometers (240 miles) north of Saskatoon in Saskatchewan, about 8,000 people had to be evacuated from aboriginal settlements.

“I’ve never seen anything like this,” Tammy Cook-Searson, chief of the Lac La Ronge Indian Band, told the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. “We’ve had to evacuate all six of our communities. There are so many wildfires right now.”

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