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Thousands are trying to evacuate the fire-ravaged capital of Canada’s Northwest Territories

Thousands are trying to evacuate the fire-ravaged capital of Canada’s Northwest Territories

(CNN) – Thousands of residents are rushing to evacuate the capital of Canada’s Northwest Territories as more than 200 fires rage in the region, forcing many to contend with dangerous road conditions or queue for hours on much-needed emergency flights.

Yellowknife, the capital, where about 20,000 people live, and other communities in the Northwest Territories have received evacuation orders as crews battle 236 active fires in the area. Yellowknife residents were urged to evacuate the city by noon Friday as a massive fire approached the city and a major highway.

The fires in the Northwest Territories are one of more than 1,000 burning in Canada, and the worst fire season in history has been recorded. Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau met with a group of senior government officials and ministers on Thursday to discuss the ongoing fires and their potential impact on infrastructure, including roads and communications.

The Canadian Armed Forces assist with firefighting and airlift efforts in the Northwest Territories. The Royal Canadian Air Force has deployed several aircraft and helicopters to support the Provincial Emergency Teams.

“We are all tired of the phrase ‘unprecedented’, but there is no other way to describe this situation in the North West Territories,” Territory Premier Caroline Cochran said in a statement late Wednesday.

More than 1,000 people left Yellowknife on emergency flights Thursday, regional authorities said in an online update, and about 2,000 more seats are available on Friday. Several people hoping to fly on Thursday stood in a slow, winding line for hours before being told they would have to try again on Friday, CNN affiliate CBC reports.

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“We understand this is very frustrating for those who have been in the queue for several hours and will have to wait again tomorrow,” the update said, adding that people who are immunocompromised, have mobility issues or have other high-risk conditions. forward in line.

Authorities are encouraging people to get out, if possible, and share space to reduce traffic and help those without vehicles.

“Evacuation flights should be used as a last resort for those who do not have the option of evacuating overland,” district officials said.

The saga of evacuation by land

However, some who emerged from the area encountered thick smoke and flames. Yellowknife resident Roy Pineda told CNN he and his family had difficulty navigating thick fog after the evacuation order was announced Wednesday.

“We weren’t really fully prepared,” Pineda said. “On the road, we were all scared of what we saw in front of us, but we kept reminding ourselves that it’s better to be outside than stranded.”

Pineda described dangerous conditions on the road as he and others attempted to flee the capital.

“On the highway you could see the fire and we were struggling with smoke difficulties,” he said. “Visibility on the road was very bad. We couldn’t even see if there was anyone in front of us.”

He and his family were still on the road Thursday morning, heading to Edmonton, 900 kilometers south.

“Right now we’re so exhausted. We haven’t slept and we’re so worried about our house in Yellowknife and if we’ll still get one,” Pineda said.

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CNN’s Sarah Smart, Paula Newton, and Carol Alvarado contributed to this report.