‘Real threat to city’: Yellowknife in Canada evacuated as wildfire nears

Trudeau convenes meeting of incident response group as Canada deals with worst ever wildlife season

Canadian fire crews battled on Thursday to prevent wildfires from reaching the northern city of Yellowknife, where all 20,000 residents are leaving after an evacuation order was declared.

Water bombers flew low over Yellowknife as thick smoke blanketed the capital of the vast and sparsely populated Northwest Territories.

Canada’s prime minister, Justin Trudeau was set to convene a meeting of the country’s incident response group on Thursday to discuss the fires, his office said. The group comprises senior officials and ministers and meets in cases of crisis.

This is Canada’s worst-ever wildfire season with more than 1,000 active fires burning across the country, including 265 in the Northwest Territories. Experts say climate change has exacerbated the wildfire problem.


The Territories, with a population of just 46,000, have limited infrastructure and there is only one two-lane road out of Yellowknife to the province of Alberta to the south, a trip of some 540km.

The deadline for residents to leave Yellowknife is noon local time on Friday (7pm Irish time). The fire is about 16km northeast of the city and authorities say it could reach the outskirts by Saturday if there is no rain.

Yellowknife mayor Rebecca Alty said special teams were clear cutting trees close to the city in a bid to prevent flames from spreading. They also planned to use fire retardant while ensuring sprinkler systems in the city were working, she told the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC).

“But a big big focus is still on the fire breaks to slow the progress of the fire,” she said.

Ms Alty said five flights would be leaving the airport on Thursday to transport those who did not have vehicles or did not feel able to make the long drive to Alberta.

So far about 134,000 sq km of land in Canada have been scorched, more than six times a 10-year average. Nearly 200,000 people have been forced to vacate their homes at some point this season.

In a social media post, the Territories fire service said a fire that had been threatening Hay River, a community of some 3,000 further south on Great Slave Lake, had stalled overnight.

“The Territories have never seen anything like this before in terms of wildfire ... it’s an unimaginable situation for so many,” Mike Westwick, the Territories’ fire information officer, told the CBC.

The blazes have also affected industrial and energy production. Diamond producer De Beers said its Gahcho Kue mine, some 280km northeast of Yellowknife, continued to operate although a number of employees from the surrounding communities had been evacuated.

In May 2016, a huge fire destroyed 10 per cent of structures in the northern energy-producing Alberta city of Fort McMurray, forcing the evacuation of 90,000 residents and cessation of more than a million barrels per day of oil output.

In June 2021, 90 per cent of the structures in the British Columbia village of Lytton burned down, a day after it recorded Canada’s hottest-ever temperature. – Reuters