Residents of Yellowknife, one of the largest cities in Canada’s far north, were ordered Wednesday to flee amid warnings that raging wildfires could reach it by the weekend.
“Unfortunately, our wildfire situation has taken another turn for the worse with a fire burning west of Yellowknife now representing a real threat to the city,” Shane Thompson, the Northwest Territories’ environment minister, told a news conference.
He ordered the city’s nearly 20,000 residents to leave by noon Friday. There is only one highway open to the south. Commercial and military flights were also being arranged.
The wildfire as of late Wednesday was within 17 kilometers (11 miles) of the regional capital.
“I want to stress that the city is not in immediate danger,” Thompson said.
But he added: “Without rain, it is possible (the fire) will reach the city outskirts by the weekend.”
“You put yourself and others at risk if you choose to stay later,” he said.
The city of Yellowknife declared an emergency earlier this week, which was soon expanded across the vast northern territory.
Several towns and Indigenous communities are already under evacuation orders, while firefighters in some areas were forced to pull back as strong winds stoked the flames.
More than 230 fires are currently burning in the region.
In what had already been declared the Northwest Territories’ largest ever evacuation, Yellowknife’s evacuation now means half the population of the near-Arctic territory will soon be displaced.