Image: Burned forest near homes
Darryl Dyck  /  AP
A road separates burned trees from homes in the Glenrosa area of Kelowna, British Columbia, on Tuesday.
msnbc.com news services
updated 7/21/2009 3:35:25 PM ET 2009-07-21T19:35:25

About 6,000 people who were forced to flee their homes because of wildfires ablaze over southern British Columbia are returning home.

Firefighters have made progress in containing two of three forest fires covering about 2,900 acres of land near West Kelowna, 250 miles east of Vancouver. The fires were sparked over the weekend.

Fire information officer Elise Riedlinger said by Tuesday afternoon, crews had contained 60 percent of a blaze raging behind the Glenrosa subdivision, but the fire was still engulfing 750 acres.

Fire crews have contained a second fire burning at the nearby Rose Valley Reservoir by 10 percent. The third fire at Terrace Mountain has not been contained.

Still, nearly 5,000 people remained evacuated.

The fires were likely sparked by human activity, and an official said they are a troubling sign of how the rest of wildfire season will go in the region, which is suffering some of the driest conditions in Canada this summer.

Kelowna, in the Okanagan Valley of south-central British Columbia, is about a 250-mile drive east of Vancouver. It is the heart of Canada's West Coast wine industry and a popular vacation spot.

All three fires were believed caused by human activity. Officials said they may have been sparked by something such as carelessly discarded cigarette.

"We have no reason to believe (they were) deliberately set," said Rob Moore, an incident commander with the provincial forestry service.

Officials said the region did not get rain in June as it normally does, and that the speed at which the wind-fanned flames spread on Saturday reflects how dry forest conditions are.

The fires have brought back painful memories of 2003, when fires raged near several communities in British Columbia, including Kelowna, which saw more than 200 homes destroyed in a single dramatic night of flames.

West Kelowna Mayor Doug Findlater told a radio interviewer that he is worried because the worst of the 2003 fires happened later in the summer than these fires. No significant rain is expected in the area for several days.

British Columbia is a major source of Canada's lumber exports, but none of the province's fires so far this year have posed a major threat to the timber industry.

The Kelowna fires have apparently caused little property damage so far. Three homes burned, but a sawmill was saved by workers who braved falling cinders to keep the flames at bay.

Reuters and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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