Thousands of residents are rushing to evacuate the capital of Canada’s Northwest Territories as more than 200 fires have burned, leaving many to face hazardous road conditions or queue for hours for much-needed emergency flights. Evacuations were also underway in British Columbia.
Orders have been given to evacuate the Northwest Territories’ capital, Yellowknife — home to about 20,000 — and several other Northwest Territories communities, as crews are battling an active 236 fire, and a massive blaze has infiltrated toward the city and a major highway.
Hell in the Northwest Territories is among more than 1,000 fires burning across Canada as the country endures its worst fire season on record. Smoke from the fires poured into the United States, creating harmful pollution and worsening air quality.
A little rain was possible, but strong northwesterly and strong westerly and northwesterly winds could push the blaze into the suburbs of Yellowknife by the end of the week, according to the A.J. Facebook share From the government’s fire control account.
In a press briefing Friday, Canadian leaders pledged that no one would be left behind during the unprecedented evacuation from Yellowknife and residents would continue to be safely removed through the weekend.
“We will continue to focus on helping the most vulnerable and we will be there for as long as it takes,” Defense Secretary Bill Blair said.
While most were encouraged to leave via the only road out of the community, up to 5,000 residents requested flights out of town.
Smoke still shrouded Yellowknife, as it had for weeks, but unexpected winds and a raging fire, now about 10 miles from Yellowknife, forced officials to order a full evacuation.
However, federal officials said they are confident they can continue to protect the majority of the community from fire damage and are working to build barriers through clearing trees and using fire retardants.
In West Kelowna, officials confirmed the loss of several buildings in the fire, including several homes. However, officials said there were no reports of loss of life despite descriptions of harrowing rescues.
The Canadian Armed Forces assist with firefighting and airlift efforts in the Northwest Territories. The Royal Canadian Air Force has deployed several aircraft and helicopters to support regional emergency crews.
CAF said CAF’s first aircraft, a CC-130 J Hercules, carried out an evacuation flight on Thursday and transported 79 passengers to Edmonton. Additional flights are scheduled for Friday.
Incoming and outgoing commercial flights at airports in the Northwest Territories have been canceled due to the bushfires. Commercial flights to and from Yellowknife Airport will cease after the last flight departed on Friday evening, according to an update on the government website.
The government website said evacuation flights will still be able to operate out of the airport in addition to medical evacuations, firefighting and military-related flights.
More than 1,000 people were removed from Yellowknife on emergency flights Thursday, and nearly 2,000 additional seats were available Friday, district officials said in an online update. Many hoping to travel on Thursday stood for hours in a zigzag, slow-moving line only to be told they would need to try again on Friday, CNN partner CBC reports.
“We understand this is very frustrating for those who have been in line for several hours and who will need to line up again tomorrow,” the area update said. She added that immunocompromised people, those with movement problems or other high-risk conditions were taken to the classes.
Officials encourage people to leave by car, if possible, and carpools to reduce traffic and assist those without vehicles.
“Evacuation flights should be used as a last resort for those who do not have the option of evacuating overland,” district officials said.
But some who did emerge from the area encountered thick smoke and roads strewn with flames. Yellowknife resident Roy Pineda told CNN that he and his family had difficulty navigating through thick fog after the evacuation order was announced Wednesday.
“We weren’t actually fully prepared,” Pineda said. “On the road, we were all scared of what we saw in front of us, but we kept reminding ourselves that it’s better to be outside than stranded.”
Pineda described the dangerous road situation as he and others attempted to flee the capital.
“On the road you could see the fire and we were fighting because of the smoke,” he said. “Visibility on the road was very bad. We couldn’t even tell if someone was ahead of us.”
He and his family were still on the road Thursday morning and were heading to seek shelter in Edmonton, about 900 miles to the south.
“We’re so exhausted now. We’ve hardly slept and we’re very worried about our house in Yellowknife and if we’ll still have one,” Pineda said.
Fires in Canada have burned more than six times more land this year than the 10-year average, according to data from Canadian Wildland Fire Information System.
There were more fires in Canada this year than the 10-year average, a difference of 128%. However, the fires appear to be spreading much more widely than before, and so far this year, more than 13 million hectares have burned – an area larger than the state of Pennsylvania.
The data, current as of August 9, shows the average area burned for 10 years to date lies at just over 2 million hectares.
British Columbia evacuates thousands
About 4,500 people are under evacuation orders in British Columbia due to wildfire threats, Canadian officials said at a press conference on Friday.
“People who choose to ignore evacuation orders are putting themselves and emergency personnel at risk,” said Bowen Ma, the province’s minister of emergency management and climate preparedness.
Another 23,500 people in British Columbia are under evacuation alerts, Ma said, meaning they must be ready to evacuate immediately if an order is given.
Some fires are more than 400 feet tall and moving “faster than we can effectively put firefighting resources on them,” said Clive Chapman, director of regional operations for the BC Wildfire Service.
“There’s very little response tactics can do with these winds and this kind of fiery behavior,” Chapman said.
He said the MacDougal Creek Fire near West Kelowna has seen “significant growth” in the past 12 hours and currently covers more than 6,000 hectares.
Kelowna International Airport has been closed to commercial flights to allow space for firefighting activity, according to A.J New release from the airport.
British columbia has more than 360 active fires — more than any other Canadian province, according to the Canadian Interagency Forest Fire Center. Forecasts of wind and lightning could cause the fires to move around and grow quickly, officials said to caution. Chapman said that lightning was the main cause of the new fires.
Nearly 60 evacuation orders were in effect across the county Thursday, he reported said the British Columbia Wildfire Service.
Among the displaced were residents of at least 4,800 properties that were ordered to evacuate in the West Kelowna area of the county on Wednesday and Thursday as the MacDougall Creek fire progressed, local emergency officials announced.
An emergency has been declared in Kelowna, as crews battle local fires coming in from across Central Okanagan Lake, caused by the McDougall Creek fire, according to New release Friday.
A video taken by resident Todd Ramsey shows a lake surrounded by large hills engulfed by a wall of fire.
“So devastated,” Ramsey said of the devastation in a Facebook post. “The fire jumped into the lake and was right behind our house.”
Ramsey said he was eventually able to evacuate to safety.
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