B.C. braces for ‘most challenging 24 to 48 hours’ of wildfire risks as residents evacuate Yellowknife

B.C. braces for ‘most challenging 24 to 48 hours’ of wildfire risks as residents evacuate Yellowknife
People without vehicles line up to register for a flight to Calgary in Yellowknife on Thursday, Aug. 17, 2023.

The trees are smoking along Highway 3 in Northwest Territories as wildfires rage nearby Thursday.

Finnlay Young captured shocking images as she and her sister fled Yellowknife amid evacuation orders for the territory’s capital city and beyond.

They’re among the 20,000 people forced out due to a rapidly approaching wildfire.

“Everyone was kind of panicking, getting gas, the lines were super, super long,” Young said from Edmonton. “Everyone was trying to get water or things to be able to survive in your car.”

The Pearson College student says that while driving outside Fort Smith, south of Yellowknife, a pilot car was needed because the smoke was so thick.

“When the smoke came you couldn’t even see the car in front of you. It was very sad,” she said.

Everyone’s trying to get out of Yellowknife on the only road out, Highway 3, and that’s leading to backups and delays.

“The highways were the busiest we’ve ever seen them,” Young said.

B.C. wildfire risks

The dangerous situation in Northwest Territories may soon become a reality in B.C.

Experts warn the dire situation here is about to get even worse, according to Cliff Chapman, director of operations at the BC Wildfire Service.

“We are anticipating a significant number of new fires across the province of B.C.,” he said at a briefing Thursday. “And obviously we are already dealing with a significant number of fires already on the land base.”

There are 369 active fires in B.C. as of Thursday afternoon.

But there are strong winds and lightning in the forecast for most of the southern part of the province, including Vancouver Island.

RELATED: West Kelowna, B.C., declares state of emergency over encroaching wildfire

“This weather event has the potential to be the most challenging 24 to 48 hours of the summer,” said Chapman. “From a fire perspective, we are expecting significant growth.”

Officials say people have to be ready to leave if their community is threatened by wildfires.

“If ever there was a time to make sure you have a grab-and-go bag, it is now,” Young said.

Fleeing is exactly what those in Yellowknife are trying to do. Thousands were waiting for flights to get out of the city.

“It makes you realize when you see all this, I honestly want to get out of here,” said Young.

“It’s quite scary because with the smoke, of course, it’s actually lightened up a little bit, but the smoke was very, very thick.”

Young’s family drove in a convoy to Edmonton, a distance of more than 1,400 kilometres.

“I think we slept for two hours in our cars. And then we drove to Edmonton,” she said.

Officials in Yellowknife are concerned the fire could reach the city as soon as Friday.

To help, the United Way Northwest Territories has set up a fund to support those impacted by the wildfires.

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Mary GriffinMary Griffin

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