‘Most of the people are now gone’: Yellowknife nearly emptied as fire fight continues

'Most of the people are now gone': Yellowknife nearly emptied as fire fight continues
The streets of Yellowknife are empty after nearly all residents from the capital of the Northwest Territories were forced to flee under the threat of an encroaching wildfire. Heavy smoke from nearby wildfires fills the sky in Yellowknife, Tuesday, Aug. 15, 2023.

A wildfire that forced the evacuation of most of Yellowknife remained about 15 kilometres from the capital of the Northwest Territories on Saturday after some help from the weather.

Wildfire information officer Mike Westwick said the area received about 4 millimetres of rain overnight and cooler, damper weather over the past few days allowed crews to get some good fire suppression work done.

“It’s going to buy us some time,” he said.

“We’re expecting to see west to northwest winds picking up by the afternoon pretty significantly. But the level of moisture in the air we do expect to put a damper on fire activity for the day.”

An evacuation order was issued Wednesday night for the city of 20,000 people and most residents complied with a departure deadline of noon on Friday.

SEE ALSO: Some evacuees come to Vancouver Island as 20,000 people flee Yellowknife wildfire

Territorial officials said Friday night that 19,000 people were out and about 2,600 remained — 1,000 of them essential workers, including firefighters, emergency teams, utility workers and RCMP officers.

The last 39 hospital patients were flown out Friday night on a Canadian Forces plane and transported to British Columbia, David Maguire with the N.W.T. Health and Social Services Authority said in an email.

He added that the hospital’s emergency department remained open.

Many evacuees have travelled to different areas of Alberta and up to 3,000 were being flown to Manitoba.

“The first flight with 15 people arrived early this morning,” the Manitoba government said in a statement Saturday. “Evacuees are being welcomed at the Winnipeg James Armstrong Richardson International Airport, transported to a reception centre and then to their hotel accommodations.”

There were 236 fires burning in the territory. In total, there have been 269 this year and they have burned more than 21,000 square kilometres — roughly four times the size of Prince Edward Island. No deaths have been reported.

Seven other N.W.T. communities were also under evacuation orders, forcing thousands more people out of their homes.

RELATED: Heritage Minister urges Meta to end ‘reckless’ news block as thousands flee wildfires

In Yellowknife, gas stations, stores and restaurants were all closed.

“Yellowknife feels like a ghost town at the moment, that’s for sure,” said Vincent Meslage, an essential worker still in the city.

He and a friend spent the better part of Friday driving people to the airport to get on evacuation flights.

“There were some people that were still stressed out, other people remained calm,” he said. “At the end of the day, most of the people are now gone.”

The weather forecast for the coming days didn’t look promising, said Westwick.

Temperatures were expected to rise Sunday and the wind could again pose a problem.

“The winds are going to be going the wrong way,” he said. “That’s going to push the fire east and the preliminary outlook after that are some additional tough days.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Aug. 19, 2023.

— By Bill Graveland in Calgary

The Canadian PressThe Canadian Press

Recent Stories

Send us your news tips and videos!