Fires in Canada: race against time to evacuate part of the Far North
Steph Deschamps / August 18, 2023
Some 20,000 residents of Yellowknife, one of the major cities in Canada's Far North, were racing against time on Friday to evacuate their homes, threatened by a major forest fire.
Territorial authorities, who issued the evacuation order on Wednesday eveningand gave residents until midday Friday to leave, estimate that around 1,500 residents have left the area by air, while hundreds more have fled along the only highway connecting the northern communities to Alberta, the neighbouring province to the south.
On Friday, twice as many flights as the previous day were scheduled to evacuate northern residents still in the area.
However, authorities reassured the public at a press conference late Thursday evening that flights would continue beyond the announced deadline.
This mass evacuation in such a remote area is "particularly difficult", explained Mike Westwick of the territorial fire service earlier this week.
The nearest evacuation center to Yellowknife is 1,150 kilometers away, in Alberta, where several centers have been set up.
Authorities warned that the fire, located some 15 km from Yellowknife's walls, could spread to the city over the weekend, especially as winds are not expected to be in the firefighters' favor.
The Canadian army has been called in to provide logistical and other support. Some 120 military personnel are deployed, equipped with planes and helicopters.
Canada is experiencing an exceptional and historic forest fire season this year, breaking all records.
More than a thousand fires are currently ravaging the country from east to west, including over 230 in the Northwest Territories and more than 370 in British Columbia, on the west coast, where evacuation orders were issued on Thursday in West Kelowna, in the south-central part of the province.
Almost 14 million hectares - roughly the size of Greece - have burned so far this year in Canada, almost double the last record set in 1989.