Hundreds of wildfires raging in parts of Canada’s Northwest Territories have prompted officials to issue evacuation orders and declare a state of emergency as the blazes threaten the capital city of Yellowknife.
The state of emergency allows for more resources to aid the more than 230 active fires charring areas across the Northwest Territories, according to Shane Thompson, the minister of the Municipal and Community Affairs.
“We find ourselves in a crisis situation and our government is using every tool available to assist,” Thompson said in a news release.
The mayor of Yellowknife, the capital of Northwest Territories, also issued a local state of emergency followed by an evacuation order for some areas as the fires approached.
The cities of Ndilo, Dettah and Ingram Trail are also under evacuation orders, Northwest Territories officials said in a news release Wednesday. Those who are unable to leave those areas by road may register for evacuation flights that will begin Thursday, officials added.
“Residents living along the Ingraham Trail, in Dettah, Kam Lake, Grace Lake and Engle Business District are currently at highest risk and should evacuate as soon as possible. Other residents have until noon on Friday, August 18, 2023 to evacuate,” officials said in the news release.
The new evacuation orders come as much of the South Slave region – including the town of Hay River – was placed under an evacuation order over the weekend. Roads out of Hay River to the Alberta border and west to Yellowknife were also closed, town officials said in a Facebook post.
“The situation has changed quickly. Strong winds have blown the fire within 10 km (6 miles) of the community. It is anticipated the fire will reach Hay River this evening,” Northwest Territories Fire said in a Facebook update Wednesday evening. “Crews that were in the path of the fire are pulling off for their own safety and are re-positioning to assist in other areas.”
A team from Alberta has been deployed to the Hay River area to lay fire retardant to help stop the fire from spreading, according to Northwest Territories Fire, a Canadian government agency.
“Sprinklers and structure protections are in place and turned on, other operations will continue work when conditions allow,” the agency added.
Meanwhile, evacuees from South Slave were initially advised to go to a reception center in Grande Prairie, but the Government of the Northwest Territories has since rerouted them to a new center in St. Albert, Alberta.
As of Wednesday evening, a total of 236 fires were actively burning across the Northwest Territories, officials said.
Dense smoke wafting south into the US from the raging blazes have led to an air quality alert from the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency on Thursday and Friday.
“Heavy ground-level smoke from wildfires in the Northwest Territories of Canada is moving south across central Canada and towards Minnesota on Wednesday,” the National Weather Service warned. “A strong cold front will bring this smoke across the entire state on Thursday.”
Smoke could reach the Minnesota-Canadian border around midnight Thursday, and then possibly move over the Twin Cities around noon and southern Minnesota by 3 p.m. Thursday, the weather service said.
Air quality has the potential to reach the Purple or Very Unhealthy category for several hours in eastern Minnesota, the weather service said.
Sensitive groups, such as people with lung or heart disease, elderly and children are urged to avoid prolonged or heavy exertion and the general public is being told to limit outdoor activity.
“Smoke will linger across the eastern half of the state on Friday and fine particle levels will continue to be high for most of the day,” the weather service said. “Winds will become southerly Friday afternoon and smoke will begin to retreat away from the state and disperse. Air quality should improve below alert levels by the end of the day on Friday.
In Canada, the Minister of National Defense Bill Blair on Tuesday mobilized the Canadian Armed Forces to provide firefighting personnel, airlift resources, and logistical support to the Northwest Territories.
“We stand with the people of the Northwest Territories as they experience their worst fire season on record, and I am confident that our military personnel will do their utmost to assist their fellow Canadians,” Blair said in a statement.
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said he was in communication with Northwest Territories Premier Caroline Cochrane on Wednesday.
“To the people of the Northwest Territories: We’re here for you. We’ve mobilized Canadian Armed Forces members, and we’ll continue to provide whatever resources are needed. I spoke about that with Premier Caroline Cochrane today – and reaffirmed our commitment to assisting however we can,” Trudeau said in a social media post.