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Residents of British Columbia village to return after fires

Residents of British Columbia village to return after fires

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CACHE CREEK, British Columbia (AP) — Residents of a British Columbia village were thrilled to be heading home Tuesday after being rushed out by a fast-moving wildfire but feared an uphill battle to repair the community's tourism economy.

Lisa Balouch, manager of the Sunset Motel in Cache Creek, said the loss of 11 days of visitors is significant not only to hotels but to restaurants, gas stations and other businesses.

"We had people coming from Britain, Switzerland, Austria, Germany, all across Canada, the U.S.," Balouch said in an interview from Venables Valley, a short drive from Cache Creek. "So many people depended on those tourists coming through for money."

More than 45,000 people remained out of their homes Tuesday as 155 wildfires burned in British Columbia. Cache Creek, with a population of about 1,000, was the first major community to be evacuated on July 7.

Officials said the 200-square-mile (520-square-kilometer) Elephant Hill fire, formerly called the Ashcroft Reserve fire, continued to burn out of control, but the imminent threat to Cache Creek had diminished. Residents were allowed to return Tuesday, but the village remained on evacuation alert.

Mayor John Ranta said the fire destroyed two airport hangars, a house and a few other buildings.

Cache Creek businesses depend on summer tourism to generate enough revenue to stay open the rest of the year, he said.

"It is a huge impact on local area businesses when there's an evacuation," he said. "We're hopeful that we can invite the rest of British Columbia and beyond back into the community in very short order."

So far about 12,700 households have registered with the Canadian Red Cross and 10,700 of those have received assistance, Robert Turner of Emergency Management BC said.

Wildfires have burned more than 3,200 square kilometers of the province so far this year.

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