Saturday, 20 Apr 2024

Race to evacuate entire Canadian city with wildfires approaching in hours

Residents in one of the largest cities in Canada’s far north are being urged to flee their homes amid warnings a wildfire could reach them by the weekend.

The country is enduring its worst wildfire season with more than 1,000 burning, including 230 in the Northwest Territories.

Officials there have now given people in the four areas of Yellowknife at highest risk until midday on Friday (6pm GMT) to leave. Only those who don’t have the option of leaving by road should register for the flights out, they added.

Shane Thompson, a government minister for the Territories, told reporters on Wednesday the fires had ‘taken another turn for the worse’ and now posed a ‘real threat’ to Yellowknife. He stressed the city ‘is not in immediate danger’ before adding: ‘[But] without rain, it is possible it will reach the city outskirts by the weekend.’

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Eight communities totalling nearly 6,800 people, or 15% of the Northwest Territories’ population, have already evacuated, Mike Westwick, the region’s fire information officer, said.

The evacuation order issued Wednesday night applies to the city of Yellowknife and the neighbouring First Nations communities of Ndilo and Dettah.

NWT Fire said the blaze is currently around 10 miles from Yellowknife and would likely reach Highway 3, the only freeway connecting the city to the rest of Canada, on Thursday.

Several main roads have been closed for what officials have called the territory’s largest airlift in its history.

Northwest Territories Premier Caroline Cochrane said: ‘I’ve never seen so many vehicles leaving town.

‘There’s all kinds of rumours out there, but be ready and evacuate if necessary. Be calm. Do not panic.’

Canadian Forces personnel are helping firefighters and have flown evacuees out on Hercules aircraft.

Yellowknife has a population of around 20,000 people and lies 250 miles south of the Arctic circle.

Western Canada is enduring a heat wave that saw 19 daily heat records broken on Tuesday and is fuelling hundreds of out-of-control wildfires.

Blazes have engulfed parts of nearly all 13 provinces and territories this year, devouring 8,000 square miles of land, forcing people to flee and disrupting oil and gas production. 

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