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Cooler weather, rain allows B.C. to downgrade fire danger ratings for some areas

A helicopter hauls a water bucket above the smoke of a wildfire that broke out on the outskirts of Kitimat, B.C., on July 17, 2014.

Robin Rowland/The Canadian Press

Cooler weather and light rain in parts of British Columbia provided some relief for firefighters Saturday, prompting officials to downgrade fire danger ratings in some parts of the province.

Navi Saini of the B.C. Wildfire Management Branch said much of the northern and central areas of the province have lowered their ratings to low or moderate.

But Saini said many areas in southern B.C. still have ratings of high to extreme, which means new fires will start easily and spread quickly.

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About 200 firefighters from Eastern Canada were expected to arrive this weekend to help fight fires, with some due to arrive Saturday in Prince George.

A total of 159 fires are blazing across the province.

Ten evacuation orders or alerts are in effect, the largest being at Smith Creek, near West Kelowna where 2,500 people have been asked to leave their homes.

Jason Luciw of the Central Okanagan Regional District Emergency Operations Centre said the Smith Creek order is 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."

Displaced people have been asked to stay with friends and family, and those who have nowhere to go have been issued hotel passes, he said.

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

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

Tracy Wynnyk, the fire information officer for the area, said the Smith Creek fire has been 30 per cent contained, up from 20 per cent on Friday.

"Right now, things are looking really good," she said.

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

There has not been much rain, she said.

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.

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