VANCOUVER - With the hillside smoking above him, Prime Minister Stephen Harper met Thursday with a crew who have been fighting an out-of-control wildfire near West Kelowna, B.C.
Harper, Premier Christy Clark and others toured an area where residents from 70 homes were chased out Monday by the flames.
The prime minister thanked all crews and first responders who have been battling wildfires across the country.
"We know these are tough and are sometimes dangerous jobs and these efforts really are appreciated by everybody.''
Harper said he has spoken with both Premier Clark and Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall about the need to improve how such devastating fires are fought.
"When the dust settles, so to speak, on all of this we're obviously going to sit down and assess what new or different needs to be done in the future, what we can do in terms of better co-ordination of resources, mitigation, we'll look at all those things,'' he said.
Clark told reporters that both she and Wall have asked the federal government to support provinces through an enhanced military presence and a national cache of technology that could be deployed during wildfires.
She said she believes Harper is considering these ideas and she expects he will have more to announce once the fire season is over.
"The next step in how to make sure that we prevent fires in the following season, what we do nationally, is a conversation that we need to have after this fire season is over,'' she said. "We gotta be on top of this now and it's all hands on deck right now.''
Parts of northern Saskatchewan have been devastated by wildfires that at one point forced thousands of people from their homes.
On Thursday, a thick haze cloaked the Westside Road fire in the Okanagan community. Smoke could be seen billowing from the mountain as water bombers whizzed overhead.
The blaze is one of 250 wildfires currently burning across B.C. A total of 1,314 wildfires have broken out this season.
Fire information officer Noelle Kekula said a short break from hot, dry weather allowed six skimmer aircraft to attack the Westside blaze.
"It was nice and calm this morning, so we were able to use air support lots this morning.''
An incident command team is managing how 60 firefighters, four helicopters and four pieces of heavy equipment are fighting the wildfire.
Evacuees from the fire clutched yellow forms and volunteers carried trays of sandwiches in and out of a temporary evacuation centre set up at the Westside Lions Community Hall Thursday afternoon.
The centre opened on Monday night when the evacuations began. About 60 people have stopped by for help, said acting centre manager Catherine Williams.
"As it goes on people want to get home,'' said Williams.
"If they've got company coming, they're not happy about it, but they're all pretty resilient. We haven't seen anyone angry. They've been really good.''
Claire and George Poitras fled their home near Westside Road Monday evening after Claire looked out the window to see the mountain ablaze.
The couple grabbed their 18-year-old poodle, Poofie, and fled to a motel, without even a toothbrush, said Claire.
The dog had been suffering from seizures for some time and had one that night because of the stress, she said. On Wednesday, they took her to a veterinarian, who recommended putting her down.
"She had a good life,'' said Claire, her voice breaking.
Outside the Westside Lions Community Hall, the couple said they are happy with how the fire and the evacuation has been handled.
"We're staying at a Best Western,'' George said. "They're feeding us well. If it wasn't so serious, it would be like a vacation.''
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