N.W.T. officials order phased evacuation of Yellowknife as wildfire approaches city

Officials in the Northwest Territories have ordered residents of Yellowknife to evacuate as wildfires burn just outside the city’s borders.

“The fire continues to advance and now burns approximately 17 kilometres outside the city,” Northwest Territories Minister of Environment and Climate Change Shane Thompson told reporters at a news conference Wednesday night. “Without rain, it is possible it will reach the city outskirts by the weekend.”

The order comes a day after a state of emergency was declared in the city, which is the territorial capital and home to 20,000 residents. Thompson said residents in Dettah, Ndilǫ and the Ingraham Trail should “begin evacuating in a phased approach determined by level of risk” and be out of the city by noon Friday. Residents of the city’s west end, including Grace Lake, the Kam Lake industrial area and Engle business district should leave first as well, he said.

“I want to be clear that the city is not in immediate danger and there’s a safe window for residents leave the city by road and by air,” Thompson said.

Evacuees are advised to ensure they have enough fuel before leaving.

Thompson adds “numerous” airlines and the federal government are assisting with air evacuations, which are scheduled to begin at 1 p.m. MDT Thursday.

For more information about evacuation orders, visit the territory’s website.

Northwest Territories wildfire information officer Mike Westwick says there is a plan to fight the fires as they approach the city, saying, “this is a very serious situation.”

“In conjunction with the city of Yellowknife, we are setting up an extensive line of sprinklers and high volume water systems surrounding the city. These systems are intended to discourage ignition and to protect structures, if wildfire does encroach,” he said.

Westwick adds crews will also be on the ground laying down fire retardant across the city’s perimeter.

“We’ll be looking to direct attack that fire as (efficiently) as possible. We’re going to be looking to slow it down and we’re going to be continuing to do good work on the ground to slow the spread towards Yellowknife.”

The evacuation comes during the worst wildfire season in Canadian history, with more than 1,000 active fires burning across the country.

Members of the Canadian Armed Forces, including 124 soldiers, are prepared to mobilize in the territory as flames threaten communities and hundreds of civilians are airlifted to safety. One hundred soldiers are set to help with firefighting logistics, such as dousing hot spots and clearing areas.

Northwest Territories Premier Caroline Cochrane said she spoke with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau Wednesday, who assured her she has the federal government’s full support.

“We’re all in this together. But individually, we choose how to react. I know the situation’s full of uncertainty, but we must take steps to stay calm and not make decisions that are going to put other people and yourselves in danger,” Cochrane said. “When you don’t evacuate, you put yourself and you put our first responders at risk.”

She adds anyone who needs financial support to leave should meet at the multiplex, take a bus or plane.

“We don’t want to see you broke down on the highway. Although we’ll have supports, we want to make sure that everyone is safe,” she said. “So again, if you are able to evacuate by the road, obey all the warning signs. Drive slowly. Watch for emergency management officials, traffic control devices and the posted speed limits. There’s going to be a lot of people on the highway, and so everyone needs to take caution as you drive out. Do not make any rash decisions that will put others in danger. We’re gonna get through this,” Cochrane said.

With files from Writer Mitchell Consky 

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