EDMONTON, CANADA - Residents of Yellowknife in Canada’s far north raced Friday to evacuate ahead of a midday deadline as wildfires bear down on the remote city and other parts of the vast country.
Since authorities in the Northwest Territories issued the city-wide evacuation order late Wednesday, long lines of cars have snaked along the lone highway connecting the area to Alberta province to the south ahead of the 12:00 pm (1800 GMT) limit.
About 1,500 people have so far left Yellowknife, the regional capital, by plane, with an increased number of flights scheduled Friday to evacuate more of the city’s 20,000 residents.
The nearest evacuation center is 1,150 kilometers (700 miles) away, in Alberta, where several sites have been set up.
“We’re going to keep going until we have the population of Yellowknife out,” emergency services official Jennifer Young told a briefing.
Air Canada pilot Chad Blewett, who flew one of the first relief flights out of the lakeside city, told public broadcaster CBC that Yellowknife “is pretty empty already.”
The stragglers, he said, were mostly essential workers “building fire breaks and working with airlines (to facilitate evacuations).”
Crews have scrambled to erect defenses as the flames approach Yellowknife, while water bombers have been seen flying low over the city.
Strong winds over the next two days will send the fire, already within just a few kilometers of the city’s perimeter, “in directions we don’t want,” Northwest Territories’ fire information officer Mike Westwick said late Thursday.
Several military aircraft have already been dispatched, along with more than 120 soldiers to help beat back the flames.