Canada speeds up evacuations as fire nears main city

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.

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