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Old August 28th, 2003, 06:49 PM
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Devastation in Kelowna shocks observers

KELOWNA, B.C. - Journalists and officials who toured the burnt-out areas of Kelowna, B.C., on Saturday were stunned by the effects of the fire that swept through parts of the city.

"It's just surreal. You can't imagine people ever lived here, used to call this their homes," said RCMP Const. Heather MacDonald.

The wildfire caused some damage Thursday but returned with a vengeance Friday night, destroying most of the homes in one neighbourhood, but leaving a random few intact, and destroying houses but leaving the gardens untouched.

"Unexplainable there's no rhyme or reason to it," said firefighter Paul Monchamp.

At least 203 houses were destroyed, and that total could rise as officials surveyed the damage, said Fire Chief Gerry Zimmerman.

The evacuation of 26,000 people 9,000 households from their homes in the Okanagan city over three days is the largest of its kind in Canada, city councillor Robert Hobson says.

Emergency workers, trained to deal with 500 or 1,000 people, found the numbers overwhelming.

But citizens in Kelowna, and nearby communities like Vernon, threw open their homes to accommodate the people who had been forced to move.

Furniture stores, hockey rinks, churches and cars also become temporary homes for thousands of people a third of Kelowna's population as the community rallied to battle a "war of fire."

People are coping "amazingly well," said said Kelowna Mayor Walter Gray.

Kelowna resident Yolanda Overton said she believes her house has been reduced to ashes. She managed to remove most of her family's important papers, books, photos, and clothing.

"Life goes on and you pick up and start over again," said Overton.

"We're in a very tough situation here," said B.C. Liberal MLA Sindi Hawkins, one of the evacuees.

Numerous pets have ended up at the Kelowna SPCA shelter because of the fire, and a fundraising appeal has been launched to help pay for the animals' care.

Livestock and other farm animals are being sent to nearby communities.

Written by CBC News Online staff
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