Yellowknife, Canada – Thousands of residents are fleeing for safety as wildfires, fueled by dry conditions and strong winds, advance towards Yellowknife, one of the largest cities in Canada’s far north.
The evacuation order for Yellowknife in the Northwest Territories is the latest in a series of wildfire-related emergencies that have plagued Canada this summer. Over 20,000 residents have been instructed to evacuate the regional capital by noon on Friday.
Emergency response teams are working tirelessly, constructing firebreaks, setting up sprinkler lines and water cannons, and deploying fire retardants to prevent the blaze from engulfing the city. Despite these efforts, officials have expressed concerns about the fire reaching the city in the coming days.
Mike Westwick, the Northwest Territories’ fire information officer, commented on the challenging conditions, stating that the northwest winds over the next two days would push the fire “in directions we don’t want.”
Many residents, heeding the evacuation order, have crowded the Yellowknife airport, awaiting flights to safer regions. Tiffany Champagne, a local resident with asthma, shared her experience with the CBC, highlighting the increasing difficulty to breathe due to the wildfire smoke.
Major airlines, including WestJet and Air Canada, have announced increased flight schedules to accommodate the evacuation.
As of Thursday, Canada is battling over 1,000 active wildfires, with approximately 230 in the Northwest Territories alone. These fires have already scorched more than 8,100 square miles (21,000 square kilometers) of land.
Other regions, like British Columbia in western Canada, are also facing evacuation orders due to separate fire threats. By Thursday night, around 5,000 individuals had been evacuated on emergency flights.
Yellowknife Mayor, Rebecca Alty, has issued warnings to those evacuating by road, cautioning about flames near highways and reduced visibility due to thick smoke.
In a bid to bolster the city’s defenses against the advancing fires, crews have been cutting down trees and setting up sprinkler lines around the city. Sylvia Webster, a resident of Yellowknife, expressed her concerns, stating, “We might still lose everything, but that’s okay. As long as our loved ones are safe, we can move on from there.”
EVACUATION ORDER in Yellowknife, Canada’s Northwest Territories— Jack Straw (@JackStr42679640) August 18, 2023
Residents must leave by Friday due to approaching wildfire. pic.twitter.com/paWt6nu1Tz
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has interrupted his summer vacation to convene an incident response group, dispatching several military aircraft and over 120 soldiers to assist in combating the flames.
This evacuation is now being termed as the largest in the history of the Northwest Territories, indicating that half of the population of this near-Arctic territory could soon be displaced.