- More than 20 evacuation flights could be out in Yellowknife Friday
- The fire is expected to reach the outskirts of Yellowknife on Saturday
- New fires prompt evacuation orders in Kelowna, British Columbia
YELLOWKNIE, Northwest Territories/EDMONTON, Aug 18 (Reuters) – Residents of the northern town of Yellowknife fought the flames before leaving town after a massive wildfire broke out in Canada’s western province of British Columbia early on Friday.
A state of emergency was declared early Friday in Kelowna, a city of about 150,000 people east of Vancouver. The Pacific Province says the next 24 to 48 hours will be very difficult.
After a wildfire that had been burning since Tuesday jumped Okanagan Lake and spread to parts of Kelowna, some mountains surrounding the city were ablaze in the front light.
“Residents under an evacuation alert are advised to be prepared to leave their homes at a moment’s notice,” the city said in a statement, adding that people should be prepared to leave their homes for extended periods of time.
The massive blaze threatening Yellowknife, the capital of the Northwest Territories, about 885 miles (1,425 km) to the northeast, made little progress Thursday, but changing winds expected it to reach the suburbs by the weekend, the Territories’ Mike Westwick said. Fire Information Officer.
“The next two days are absolutely critical and the most challenging of the season,” he told the Canadian Broadcasting Corp. earlier Friday.
“We’re going to throw everything we’ve got at that breakthrough. We’re going to throw the plane at it, and when it’s safe, we’re going to throw people at it,” Westwick said.
The fire is about 15 km (9 mi) northwest of the city, but changing winds are expected to push it closer. Fires were burning on both sides of the only highway out of town, but it remained open.
“Leaving Yellowknife, you’re driving on fumes,” said Brent Saulnier, who moved to the city from neighboring Alberta. “It’s on fire on both sides of the road. … It’s a very surreal experience.”
Many more must leave the city of 20,000 with an evacuation deadline set for noon local time (1800 GMT). About 10 evacuation flights took 1,500 people out of Yellowknife on Thursday, and about 22 more are expected on Friday, officials said.
“Nobody imagined an event of this magnitude. It’s still stressful. There are still a lot of people left in Yellowknife.
About 65% of the total population of the North West Territories, 46,000, is ready for evacuation.
Crews, including members of the military, cut vegetation to create firebreaks, set up sprinkler systems and deliberately set fires to remove fuel before approaching large fires, Westwick said.
The expansion of fire danger and disruption to life and land underscores the severity of the worst Canadian wildfire season of the year, with more than 1,000 active fires burning across the country.
Experts say climate change has exacerbated the wildfire problem. Officials say drought and high temperatures have been a factor in the number and intensity of fires this year. Much of Canada has experienced unusually dry conditions.
As the number of evacuees in Grande Prairie and St. Albert, on Edmonton’s northern outskirts, increased, both cities declared they had reached their full capacity and returned all arrivals to a new center in Leduc, south of Edmonton’s provincial capital.
Among them was the Goor family from Hay River.
The family was unsure where their son Liam, 13, was going to land when they got an alert on their phone while camping, returning from a cadet trip in the neighboring Yukon Territory.
As the family moves to Alberta, the most important thing to Paula Gore is her family.
“The only thing I had in mind was that I had the kids, the dogs and we had each other, to get out of there. You can really think about that at the time,” she said.
Additional reporting by Dan Whitcomb and Timon Johnson; David Lungren, reporting by Ismail Shakil in Ottawa; Written by Denny Thomas, David Lungren and Steve Scherer; Editing by Sharon Singleton, Chisu Nomiyama and Jonathan Otis
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