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Wildfires prompt evacuations of capital of Canada's Northwest Territories

Hay River, N.W.T. fire evacuees Tanisha Edison and her boyfriend Mason Bruneau go through their belongings at the evacuee center in St. Albert, Alberta, on Wednesday, Aug. 16, 2023. (Jason Franson /The Canadian Press via AP)
JASON FRANSON
/
AP
Hay River, N.W.T. fire evacuees Tanisha Edison and her boyfriend Mason Bruneau go through their belongings at the evacuee center in St. Albert, Alberta, on Wednesday, Aug. 16, 2023. (Jason Franson /The Canadian Press via AP)

YELLOWKNIFE, Northwest Territories — Residents in the capital of Canada's Northwest Territories were ordered to evacuate Wednesday night as wildfires neared the city of 20,000 people.

People in the four areas of Yellowknife at highest risk should leave as soon as possible and residents in other areas have until noon Friday to leave, the Northwest Territories government said.

"I want to be clear that the city is not in immediate danger and there's a safe window for residents to leave the city by road and by air," Shane Thompson, environment minister for the Territories, told a news conference.

The fire was burning about 17 kilometers (10 miles) outside the city. "Without rain, it is possible it will reach the city outskirts by the weekend," Thompson said.

If smoke limits visibility, those leaving Yellowknife by highway will be escorted through the active fire zone.

More than 200 wildfires have already burned a widespread area of the Northwest Territories.

Eight communities totaling nearly 6,800 people, or 15% of the Northwest Territories' population, have already evacuated, Mike Westwick, the region's fire information officer, said earlier in the day.

Many highways have been closed and the territory has had what officials called the largest airlift in its history. Canadian Forces personnel are helping firefighters and have flown evacuees out on Hercules aircraft.

Canada has seen a record number of wildfires this year. More than 21,000 square kilometers (8,108 miles) have burned.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

The Associated Press