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Wildfires force thousands to flee homes in western US and Canada

Fires are barreling across the western United States and Canada, forcing thousands of residents to flee and destroying homes. Two major wildfires in California have forced a total of more than 10,000 people to evacuate.

Thousands of people have fled wildfires across California, the most populous US state. Officials have deployed about 5,000 firefighters to battle 14 large blazes statewide, according to California's Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.

More than 231 fires were burning, with at least 10 close to residential communities, Canadian Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale told reporters.

"Low humidity, high heat and the winds are right - and there's just a lot of stuff to burn," said Gina DePinto, a spokeswoman for Santa Barbara County, where about 1,000 firefighters have raced to contain two fires with help from water-dropping helicopters as more than 3,500 people fled their homes.

Four thousand people evacuated and 7,400 prepared to as fire swept through foothills in the Sierra Nevada, about 100 kilometers (60 miles) north of the state capital, Sacramento, the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection announced late Sunday. A fire that broke out Sunday and has already burned 340 acres in San Luis Obispo County threatened numerous structures near the town of Santa Margarita.

Mines also out

The wildfires in BC also disrupted operations at two mining companies on Monday as more than 10,000 people were evacuated because of blazes across the interior of the Western Canadian province.

Vancouver-based precious metals company EnGold Mines said on Monday it had suspended exploration in BC, home to all of its mines.

Imperial Metals Corp said operations at its Mount Polley copper mine were "significantly reduced" because some employees were evacuated from their homes, many roads had been closed and a local airport had been shut down.

Over 10,000 people had been forced from their homes as of midday on Monday, up from about 7,000 the previous day, he said. The fires are burning across an area ranging from 150 km (95 miles) to 350 km (215 miles) northeast of Vancouver.

BC has announced C$100 million ($78 million) in emergency funds. The Canadian Red Cross will hand out stipends of C$600 to help those displaced by fires, and other money will be reserved for rebuilding.

Southern California faces blistering heat. Temperatures have neared 45 degrees Celsius (120 Farenheit) in cities such as Palm Desert, in Riverside County's growing Coachella Valley.

In April, California Governor Jerry Brown declared the official end of the state's five-year drought, which scientists believe is a result of anthropogenic climate change. But he kept in place water-reporting requirements, as well as bans on practices such as irrigating residential lawns during or following rainfall and hosing off sidewalks, which some state residents prefer to sweeping.

The fires come just under a year after Californians faced terrifying "firenadoes" - some of which, officials suspected, were caused by arsonists.

A police SUV burns

The officer escaped, but a police truck burned in Santa Barbara County

Fire is everywhere     

Firefighters built containment lines around half of a wildfire that has forced hundreds to evacuate near Breckenridge, Colorado, since breaking out on Wednesday. In rural Arizona, fire officials say, about 10 buildings have burned, including three homes, in a wildfire that has led to the evacuation of the entire town of Dudleyville, about 100 miles (160 kilometers) southeast of Phoenix, the state capital.

North of the US's border, firefighters have contended with more than 200 wildfires burning in British Columbia, Canada's westernmost province, that have destroyed dozens of buildings - including several homes and two airport hangars. The three biggest fires, which have grown in size to range from nine to 19 square miles (20-50 square kilometers), have forced thousands of people to flee.

mkg/se/jbh (AFP, AP, Reuters)

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