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Cooler B.C. weather provides relieves firefighters

WEST KELOWNA, B.C. - Cooler weather and light rain in parts of British Columbia provided some relief for firefighters Saturday, including those fighting a blaze near the southern interior city of Kelowna.

Fire officials said higher humidity and cooler weather has stopped the 2.5-square-kilometre blaze from spreading.

”There was minimal fire growth overnight,” said Randy Burgess, the man in charge of fighting the fire at Smith Creek near West Kelowna, a municipality near Kelowna.

”The weather is definitely helping us today," he told a news conference on Saturday.

Burgess said it is too early to tell when some 2,500 people asked to leave their homes can return. It's one of the 10 evacuation orders or alerts that are in effect around the province.

Jason Luciw of the Central Okanagan Regional District Emergency Operations Centre said the Smith Creek evacuation order was expected to stay in place for the immediate future.

"Until we get a handle on the fire and we're comfortable where it's at, we have to keep the orders in place," said Luciw. "RCMP are patrolling the area and blockading the area to make sure that the area is properly evacuated."

Jake Sparks, of Nelson, B.C., one of the firefighters battling the blaze on the ground said the difficult terrain and the heat makes the job challenging.

”It’s pretty tough, there are some parts that are steeper than others,” said Sparks, who has seven years experience fighting forest fires.

”A lot of the job is just digging and keeping your wits about you.”

The B.C. Wildfire Management Branch said thanks to the improved weather conditions, much of the northern and central areas of the province have lowered their ratings to low or moderate.

About 200 firefighters from Eastern Canada were expected to arrive this weekend to help fight some of the 159 fires blazing across the province. Some were due to arrive Saturday in Prince George.

Displaced people in the West Kelowna have been asked to stay with friends and family, and those who have nowhere to go have been issued hotel passes, Luciw said.

Some people have even contacted emergency services to offer their homes for evacuees to stay in, Luciw said.

"It's really encouraging to see how the community steps up and offers to help in a situation like this," he said.

West Kelowna Mayor Doug Findlater said residents appear to be taking the situation well, though many are concerned for their homes.

"Most people are very patient," he said. "This community has been through this before."

"In this area this is a bit of a way of life," said Findlater, who had to leave his home because of a fire in 2009.

The Central Okanagan Emergency Operations Centre said there is a reduced risk of power lines being cut by the fire, though residents are being urged to be prepared for an outage.

However, it is unclear if weather conditions were aiding firefighting efforts in a 15-square-kilometre blaze north of Lytton, 265 kilometres northeast of Vancouver.

Temperatures have been lower, but conditions are windy, making it possible for fires to spread quickly, said David Steeves, the fire information officer for the area.

"It changes from moment to moment, it is very fluid and dynamic," said Steeves. "You can go from a very safe situation in one minute to a very high level of danger in the next."

The hilly terrain also adds to the challenges firefighters face, he said.

The Thompson-Nicola Regional District issued an evacuation order affecting more than 100 people in the area.

Becky Blixrud, an information officer with the district, said it was unclear when the order will be lifted.

-By Steven Chua in Vancouver with files from Jonathan Hayward in West Kelowna

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