22K Canadians ordered to evacuate as raging wildfires close in

22K Canadians ordered to evacuate as raging wildfires close in

Residents of capital of Northwest Territories, 2 First Nations reserves to leave by car, plane

By Barry Ellsworth

TRENTON, Canada (AA) - Flights will begin Thursday for 22,000 residents of Yellowknife, the capital of the Northwest Territories (NWT) in Canada, and two First Nations reserves who have been ordered to evacuate by noon Friday because of the danger posed by an approaching wildfire.

Emergency vehicles will lead cars from the danger zones on the 1,311-kilometer (815-mile) trip south to shelters in the province of Alberta. A tanker full of gas will follow vehicles along the route.

“The fire now represents a real threat to the city,” Environment Minister Shane Thompson said in issuing the evacuation order Wednesday. While officials said there is no immediate danger, the wildfire is 17 kilometers (10.5 miles) from the city.

"The window of opportunity right now is going to allow us to evacuate everybody safely," said Thompson. "We need you to do it now." The fire could block escape routes by air and road. The Canadian Armed Forces will provide airplanes.

The vast, sparsely-populated NWT, like the rest of Canada, has been burning this year as wildfires have ravaged virtually all 10 provinces and three territories. There are currently 1,067 active wildfires, with 230 in the NWT. About 13.7 million hectares (33.8 million acres) -- about the size of England -- have been consumed, by far the worst wildfire season on record.

The fire threatens Yellowknife, Kam Lake, Grace Lake, First Nations reserves of Dettah and Nadilo and the Ingraham trail.

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