Canada Wildfire: 20,000 Yellowknife Residents Evacuating

TEMPO.CO, Jakarta – Canada’s fire crews on Thursday, August 17, battled to prevent wildfires from reaching the northern city of Yellowknife, where all 20,000 residents are leaving by car and plane 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. Officials say the fire, which is moving slowly, is now 15 km northwest of the city and could reach the outskirts by Saturday if there is no rain.

“Very tough days ahead – with two days of northwest to west-northwest winds on Friday and Saturday, which would push fire towards Yellowknife,” the territorial fire service said in a statement on Facebook.

In the Pacific province of British Columbia, which has suffered unusually intense blazes this year, officials warned residents to prepare for extreme fire conditions.

“This weather event has the potential to be the most challenging 24 to 48 hours of the summer from a fire perspective,” wildfire service director Cliff Chapman told reporters. “We are expecting significant growth and we are expecting our resources to be challenged from north to south.”

In Yellowknife, hundreds of people lined up outside a local high school waiting to be taken to the airport for one of the five evacuation flights planned on Thursday to the neighboring province of Alberta.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau convened a meeting of the Incident Response Group to discuss the fires on Thursday. The group is comprised of senior officials and ministers, and meets in cases of crisis.

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Defence Minister Bill Blair, speaking to the Canadian Broadcasting Corp (CBC) after the meeting, said the federal government was closely monitoring the evacuations and was prepared to quickly airlift residents if land routes get cut off.

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.

Drought has been a contributing factor to the number and intensity of this year’s fires, officials say, with high temperatures exacerbating the situation. Much of Canada has seen abnormally dry conditions.

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