Hundreds of wildfires in Canada’s Northwest Territories have prompted emergency declarations and the evacuation of the capital city of Yellowknife.
The roughly 20,000 residents of the city were informed by emergency personnel on Wednesday evening that they had until noon on Friday to leave – and some had only a few hours.
“Residents living along the Ingraham Trail, in Dettah, Kam Lake, Grace Lake and Engle Business District are currently at highest risk and should evacuate as soon as possible. Other residents have until noon on Friday, August 18, 2023, to evacuate,” Northwest Territories officials said.
Those who are unable to leave by road have been advised to register for flights that are taking off from the area.
“We’re all tired of the word unprecedented, yet there is no other way to describe this situation in the Northwest Territories,” Premier Caroline Cochrane said in a statement on Wednesday.
The evacuation is likely to be the biggest rescue operation in the territory’s history and could be one of the biggest ever undertaken by Canada, according to Cabin Radio.
One fire to the west of Yellowknife was projected to come as close as 11 kilometres away from the city’s western edge, but NWT Fire now thinks it could push past the city to the Ingraham Trail in the days ahead.
More than 200 wildfires have already burnt through a large part of the Northwest Territories, and there were 1,067 active fires burning across Canada as of Wednesday.
Eight communities that are home to about 6,800 people, or 15 per cent of the Northwest Territories' population, have already evacuated, Mike Westwick, the region's fire information officer, said, according to the Weather Channel.
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau will on Thursday convene a meeting of an incident response group to discuss the fires.
Canadian wildfires have burnt more than 10 million hectares so far this year.
In addition to being the capital, Yellowknife is also the largest community and only city in the North-west Territories.
The fires in Canada have once again led to harmful air quality in the US.
“Heavy ground-level smoke from wildfires in the Northwest Territories of Canada is moving south across central Canada and towards Minnesota on Wednesday,” the National Weather Service warned.
“A strong cold front will bring this smoke across the entire state on Thursday.”