Yellowknife residents flee and wildfires in western Canada prompt new evacuations

  • More than 20 evacuation flights are likely to depart from Yellowknife on Friday
  • The fires are expected to reach the suburbs of Yellowknife on Saturday
  • New fires cause evacuation orders in Kelowna, British Columbia

YELLOWKNIF, NWT/EDMONTON, Aug. 18 (Reuters) – Residents of the remote northern Canadian city of Yellowknife scrambled out of town before a blaze blocked their exit on Friday, while another wildfire in the western province of British Columbia to issue new evacuation orders. .

A state of emergency was declared early Friday in Kelowna, a city 300 kilometers (180 miles) east of Vancouver with a population of about 150,000. Pacific County said the next 24 to 48 hours could be the toughest.

Some of the hills around the city ablaze in the dawn light after a wildfire that has been burning since Tuesday jumped into Okanagan Lake and spread through parts of Kelowna.

“Residents under an evacuation warning are advised to be prepared to leave their homes at any moment,” the city said in a statement. Officials said more than 2,400 properties have been vacated.

The breadth of fires and disruption to life and the land underscores the intensity of Canada’s worst-ever wildfire season this year, with more than 1,000 active fires burning across the country.

About 885 miles (1,425 km) to the northeast, the wildfire that threatened Yellowknife, the capital of the Northwest Territory, made little progress Thursday, but changing winds mean it could reach the suburbs by the end of the week, Mike Westwick said. . Fire information officer.

“The next two days are very crucial and will be some of the toughest challenges of the season,” he told the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) early Friday.

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“We’re going to put everything we’ve got into slowing that down. We’re going to throw planes at it, and when it’s safe, we’re going to throw people at it,” Westwick said.

The fire is located about 15 kilometers (9 miles) northwest of the city, but variable winds are expected to bring it closer. The only highway outside the city caught fire on both sides, but remained open.

Leaving Yellowknife, you’re driving in smoke,” said Brent Saulnier, who was visiting the city from nearby Alberta. “It’s on fire on both sides of the road… It’s a very surreal experience.”

Many still have to leave the city of about 20,000, with the evacuation deadline set at noon local time (1800 GMT).

“The noon deadline doesn’t mean the highway closes at noon,” Yellowknife Mayor Rebecca Alte said in an interview with CBC. “We really encourage people to go as quickly as possible. The highway will continue to be open as long as it is safe.”

Alti said the flights would also continue after the deadline.

“Residents really need to leave now because everyone knows the fire is approaching the municipality,” she said, and they may arrive by the end of the week.

Authorities said about 10 evacuation planes took about 1,500 people out of Yellowknife on Thursday, and about 22 flights were scheduled for Friday. The Canadian military flew 79 people on Thursday and has more flights on Friday.

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It appears that about 65% of the total population of 46,000 in the Northwest Territories will be evacuated.

Responding to complaints that Facebook’s Meta Platform blocked vital news about the fires amid a dispute with the federal government over a law requiring revenue sharing with local media, Transportation Secretary Pablo Rodriguez on Friday urged Meta to allow news sharing.

Firefighting teams have been cutting down vegetation to create fire breaks, setting up sprinkler systems, and setting arson to get rid of fuel before the larger fire approaches, Westwick said.

drought conditions

Experts say climate change has exacerbated the problem of wildfires. Officials say drought and high temperatures have been a contributing factor to the number and intensity of this year’s fires. Much of Canada experienced abnormally dry conditions.

As the number of evacuees increased in Grande Prairie and St. Albert, on the northern outskirts of Edmonton, both cities announced that their centers had reached full capacity and redirected all evacuees to a new center in Leduc south of the regional capital Edmonton.

Among them was the Gore family from High River Township.

When they got an alert on their phone while camping, the family was left unsure of where their son, Liam, 13, would land as he returned from a training trip in the neighboring Yukon Territory.

As the family made their way to Alberta, what mattered most to Paula Gore was her family.

“The only thing I had in mind was that I had the kids and the dogs, and we had each other just to get out of there. That’s all you can really think about at the time,” she said.

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Additional reporting by Dan Whitcomb and Timon Johnson. Additional reporting by David Leungren, Ismail Shakil and Steve Scherer in Ottawa; Written by Denny Thomas, David Leungren, and Steve Scherer; Editing by Sharon Singleton, Chizu Nomiyama, Jonathan Otis and Josie Kao

Our standards: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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