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The latest on Canadian wildfires

Yellowknife’s 20,000 residents have been ordered to evacuate by noon Friday, as wildfires approach the city. Meanwhile, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is holding an emergency meeting today to discuss the situation.

Emergency resources

  • N.W.T. residents who need to evacuate can register here. Information for evacuees can be found here.
  • Territorial wildfire updates can be found here. Report smoke or fire by calling 1-877-698-3473.
  • Emergency response resources can be found here.
  • The latest community statuses, including notices, alerts and orders, can be found here.

Find updates from our reporters below.

11:27 p.m. ET

Evacuation flights land and more scheduled for Friday

About 1,500 people on 10 evacuation flights have departed Yellowknife so far. There are 22 evacuation flights scheduled for Friday and officials said they would charter more if necessary.

“We’ll make sure everybody gets out,” Yellowknife Mayor Rebecca Alty said in an interview Thursday afternoon.WestJet and Air Canada added commercial flights and swapped in larger planes. The Yellowknife Women’s Society chartered its own evacuation plane, according to Cabin Radio, a local news organization.

Beatrice Bernhardt was among the first group of people from Yellowknife to touch down in Calgary on Thursday. The 77-year-old said it was a relief to feel safe after weeks of uncertainty.

“Every day, for almost three weeks, you can’t see anything. All you see is smoke,” she said, standing next to her knee-high luggage with a blue coat wrapped around the purse on her shoulder. She said she broke down in tears while waiting for the flight to board earlier on Thursday.

With wildfire smoke filling Yellowknife’s sky, some didn’t wait for an evacuation order

“You’re holding everything in to find out if you’re going to be leaving.”

When asked whether she left any treasures behind, she said: “My life.”

  • Smoke from the McDougall Creek wildfire fills the air and nearly blocks out the sun in Kelowna.DARRYL DYCK/The Canadian Press

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8:42 p.m. ET

Health experts warn evacuees about toxic drug supply in Alberta

A group of health experts in Calgary are warning evacuees arriving from the Northwest Territories about toxic drugs on Alberta’s streets, which are killing, on average, five people daily.

“We are so sorry you are going through this stressful evacuation. We care about you and want you to be safe,” said the advisory posted online by Health Experts for a Safer Alberta (HESA). “The drug supply in Alberta is toxic, unpredictable and dangerous. Your body might respond differently to the drugs here, so please be VERY careful.”

Safety tips are included in the graphic, posted on social media, which also lists clinics in Calgary that provide opioid agonist medications, such as methadone, Kadian and suboxone, used to treat opioid use disorder.

The advisory encourages people to use a smaller “test dose” of any drug to gauge their response and to not use alone so that help can be provided if an overdose or other adverse reaction occurs. Should someone become unresponsive, people can call the National Overdose Response Service for help at 1-888-688-6677, the group notes.

Naloxone is free and available at local pharmacies, they added, and people can use drugs under medical supervision at the downtown supervised consumption site, which offers sterile supplies and other health services.

Alanna Smith

7:46 p.m. ET

NWT inmates transferred to Yukon and Alberta

The Northwest Territories government says 90 inmates have been transferred to Yukon and Alberta because of the threat of wildfires.

The government says all inmates from the Fort Smith Correctional Complex and South Mackenzie Correctional Centre were previously evacuated to Yellowknife before residents in that city were told to leave late Wednesday.

The territory says for safety and security reasons, it will not disclose details related to specific locations for inmate transfers.

– The Canadian Press

6:40 p.m. ET

Edmonton to open NWT evacuee centre

Edmonton will open a reception centre for evacuees from the Northwest Territories on Friday at noon. The city, which made the announcement Thursday afternoon, did not indicate how many people it would be able to accommodate.

The reception centre will be located at the Edmonton EXPO Centre, in Hall C. The city encouraged evacuees to go directly to the reception centre upon arrival in Edmonton if they need support.

“The Centre will provide all immediate needs for evacuees including temporary lodging, food services, clothing, pet day care and health care,” the city said in a statement. Evacuees can bring their pets, but are discouraged from leaving animals in vehicles because of the hot temperatures expected.

Edmonton said it responded to a request for assistance from the Alberta Emergency Management Agency.

“This summer has been incredibly difficult with wildfire activity across the world. Edmonton is proud to once again welcome and provide care for wildfire evacuees, this time from Yellowknife,” Andre Corbould, the city manager, said in a statement. “Though a difficult situation brings you to our city, know you are safe here and have our support.”

Carrie Tait

6:05 p.m. ET

Northern airline evacuating residents, allowing travel without ID

Canadian North, which primarily services Nunavut, Nunavik and the Northwest Territories, has been conducting evacuation flights since Monday. The airline is allowing passengers to bring pets in cabins and travel without ID if necessary because of the emergency situation, said spokeswoman Annie Tomlinson in a statement.

The airline is prioritizing evacuation flights and adjusting its regular flight schedules as needed, said Tomlinson, with commercial flights to and from the Yellowknife airport being cancelled starting tomorrow while aircraft are reassigned to evacuation efforts.

The Canadian Press

5:14 p.m. ET

Workers at Calgary airport prepare for evacuees

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Large white floor signs have been positioned in the arrivals level of Calgary airport, directing evacuees.Handout

Calgary airport workers are bracing for an influx of evacuees scheduled to begin arriving later Thursday from the Northwest Territories, where thousands have been ordered to leave as wildfires threaten communities.

Large white floor signs with bright red arrows have been positioned in the arrivals level directing evacuees to a makeshift support station, located at the Immigrant Arrival Centre. Airport staff were preparing spaces mid-afternoon on Thursday for the orderly lineup of evacuees.

In a nearby room, written on a dry erase board, is information on smoking and pet relief areas and directions to get to the nearest washroom. Another paper attached to the board, with a City of Calgary logo, lists translation services available for non-English speakers.

Alanna Smith

5:02 p.m. ET

Air Canada responds to flight cost criticism

Air Canada spokesman Peter Fitzpatrick acknowledged in an e-mail some social media posts saying fares were hiked amid the emergency in Yellowknife but said they are not correct. Some of the screenshots of particularly high fares show “complex itineraries involving multiple flights, and sometimes multiple carriers, rather than direct flights out,” he said.

Air Canada added two extra flights, bringing Thursday’s total to four, Mr. Fitzpatrick said. One flight, coming from Vancouver, will use a bigger aircraft, making use of a 169-seat Boeing 737 instead of a 76-seat regional jet.

Another 737 flight is being added for Friday, and the airline is evaluating opportunities for extra flights, Mr. Fitzpatrick said. No flights are currently planned to Yellowknife on Saturday, he said.

“At this point, flights for the next few days are completely full, but we are monitoring the situation and will adjust our schedule as we can. We have also put in a goodwill policy for customers to change their flights booked for travel up to August 30, or to obtain a refund,” he said.

The Canadian Press

4:02 p.m. ET

Winds and humidity could worsen blaze, says NWT fire service

The Northwest Territories fire service says there are “very tough days ahead,” with strong winds expected Friday and Saturday that will blow wildfires closer to Yellowknife.

In an update posted online, the service said winds are expected to shift north, with gusts of up to 40 kilometres per hour by the afternoon. Relative humidity could also heighten fire activity.

“There is a possibility that this fire reaches the outskirts of Yellowknife by the weekend. However, some isolated showers seen overnight. Whether additional showers occur will make a significant difference,” the update said.

Fires moved slightly closer to Yellowknife overnight and pushed closer to Highway 3, which leads out of the city to Alberta. The service said that doesn’t mean the highway is unsafe for travel, and officials are directing drivers through the fire zones to ensure the safety of evacuees.

Alanna Smith

3:46 p.m. ET

A Yellowknife family’s smoky evacuation by road

Video from Yellowknife wildfire evacuees shows heavy smoke over a highway with some nearby flames as they drive out of the Northwest Territories capital on August 16.

The Globe and Mail

Aidan and Simone Cartwright packed their two kids, two large dogs and three quails into a Toyota Highlander SUV and set off on the highway Wednesday evening, shortly before the evacuation order was announced for all of Yellowknife.

About 25 kilometres out of town, the smoke thickened and they began seeing patches of fire along both sides of the road.

“I could hit it with a rock,” Mr. Cartwright said of the wildfire. “The kids thought it was great. They figured there was a dragon out there blowing fire because we were recently reading The Paper Bag Princess.”

Because they left shortly before the formal evacuation order, the traffic moved relatively well for much of the 315-kilometre drive to Fort Providence, although vehicles had to slow down to get through patches of thick smoke.

At Fort Providence, where Highway 3 crosses the Mackenzie River, there was a long lineup for gasoline. “Providence was nuts,” Mr. Cartwright said. “We were lucky we brought gas, otherwise it would probably have been like a one-and-a-half to two-hour wait just to get gas.”

The family drove south into the night. Near Enterprise, a small hamlet that was ravaged by forest fires earlier in the week, they encountered more smoke and fires along the side the road.

“There’s all these little embers burning. It looked like hundreds of people just had little lighters or campfires in the bushes,” Mr. Cartwright said. In the distance, the sky glowed red above the town of Hay River, which is under its own evacuation order.

They crossed the Alberta border around 2 a.m. and pulled over to the side of the road around 3:45 a.m. to get some rest. At least a dozen other cars with NWT licence plates were parked in the pull-out. After a few hours, they continued south to High Level. “It was just full of Yellowknifers all gassing up. The Tim Hortons was basically like a meeting centre,” Mr. Cartwright said.

The family – kids, dogs and quails – is heading for Moberly Lake, B.C., where Mr. Cartwright’s parents live.

“We’re basically heading over there for the short term,” he said. “If the weekend goes well, then we’ll probably just turn around from there. But if Yellowknife burns down, then we’ll probably head to Calgary for the longer term.”

Mark Rendell

3:02 p.m. ET

Yellowknife resident reflects on moments before evacuation

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Vivian Hansen provided this photo of evacuees boarding a WestJet flight to Edmonton at the Yellowknife airport.Vivian Hansen/Handout

Vivian Hansen says the smell of smoke is wafting through Yellowknife airport as she waits, alongside hundreds of other evacuees, to board a flight out of the fire-threatened city.

She was reluctant to leave her home, but her children insisted she get out quickly and booked her a flight to Calgary, set to depart later Thursday. A grey smog lingers outside, visible through the large glass windows of the airport, which is located northwest of the downtown.

Ms. Hansen, 62, said hordes of people have filed into lines, but the airport is calm and quiet, apart from the occasional squeal from animals in carriers. “Nobody’s panicking,” she said. “Canadians, we just sit and accept stuff. There are little groups, lots of tourists.”

The longtime Yellowknife resident, whose oldest daughter, Rebecca Alty, is the mayor, said she was feeling confident, up until Tuesday, that the situation would not escalate. Maybe she would need to shelter in place, she thought, never imagining the entire city would be ordered to pack and leave by noon Friday.

Even after the evacuation order dropped Wednesday night, Ms. Hansen contemplated how long she could wait. But she knew she had to take the directive seriously.

She said a heaviness fell over the city that night, as people packed their belongings and drove out in convoys into the night. She sat outside and could hear the constant hum of aircraft overhead, on route to drop water on the wind-fuelled blazes nearby. She described it as ominous and eerie.

However, Ms. Hansen maintains her upbeat attitude – “It’s just the way I am.” She’s viewing her time in Calgary as an opportunity to visit with her other daughter and hopes to go swimming and biking as a distraction from the situation at home.

She’s optimistic the fire won’t reach her property but stored sentimental items in her basement as a precaution, bringing only a few things with her, including a photo of her children, some jewellery, medications, her laptop and chargers and enough clothing for about five days.

“I have confidence that there is a decent team up here working on this,” she said. “I’m hopeful this will end soon.”

Alanna Smith

2:48 p.m. ET

WestJet adds recovery flights, adjusts fares to support evacuation

WestJet says it is adding two recovery flights today between Yellowknife and Calgary to help people evacuate areas threatened by wildfire.

The airline says it has also adjusted fare classes to avoid price escalation, added larger aircraft to operate previously scheduled flights between the two cities and increased the limit for pets allowed in cabins.

It says it has cancelled six flights on Friday and Saturday out of an abundance of caution and is implementing more flexible policies for people wanting to change or cancel flights to Yellowknife between today and Tuesday.

The Canadian Press

2:34 p.m. ET

Calgary-based disaster response team deployed to assist in evacuation

Canada Task Force 2, a disaster response team based in Calgary, has deployed 10 members as an “incident management team” to support the Yellowknife wildfire evacuation at the request of the Alberta Emergency Management Agency and the government of the Northwest Territories, said Iain Bushell, Calgary’s director of emergency management and community safety.

The team, which includes Chief Susan Henry and Deputy Chief Coby Duerr, will serve in various roles in the emergency operations centre and the incident command posts in and around Yellowknife, Mr. Bushell said. They will depart for Yellowknife Thursday.

CAN-TF2 is an all-hazards disaster response team dedicated to emergency response, incident management and urban search and rescue. The entire team consists of 165 specialists from around Alberta and is a partnership between Calgary, the province and the federal government.

Carrie Tait

2:20 p.m. ET

Residents line up to register for flights out of Yellowknife as the city empties

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People without vehicles lineup to register for a flight to Calgary in Yellowknife on Aug. 17, 2023.Bill Braden/The Canadian Press

Hundreds of Yellowknife residents lined up outside Ecole Sir John Franklin High School on Thursday morning to register for flights or ground transportation out of the city.

In the nearby community of Dettah, across Yellowknife Bay, dozens gathered in the Chief Drygeese Centre, waiting for buses to take them to the airport or to the high school.

“We’ve got four big buses on the way to take people down to the airport to register to leave by air and we’re shuttling people out of both communities right now,” said Kieron Testart, the economic development director with the Yellowknives Dene First Nation, referring to Dettah and a second nearby community, Ndilo. “We are working under the assumption that anyone vulnerable we need to get them out today, and which is why we’re hustling to move as many people as we can get.”

Rylund Johnson, a member of the NWT legislative assembly, said the city is emptying fast.

“At this point, it’s pretty clear that a lot of the town has left, and then there are buses going out as we speak,” he said from outside the high school in downtown Yellowknife, where at least eight yellow school buses waited to shuttle people to the airport or out along the highway.

“Most of the vulnerable population – hospitals, Avens [the long-term care home] were put on planes this morning, and then there’s planes leaving pretty much every hour on the hour this afternoon for everyone else,” Mr. Johnson said.

Some people deemed essential workers are staying behind to manage the evacuation, maintain essential services and build out firebreaks, he added.

“There’s still a lot of contractors with excavators building the fire breaks. There’s city public work staff making sure we have water and sanitation. There’s [Northwest Territories Power Corp.] staff making sure that Jackfish [the powerplant] runs. The hospital will continue to operate in some capacity.

“The airport is essential,” he said. “Yellowknife is essential, and we still have to medevac people from around the rest of the territories. So all of those logistics are still kind of being worked out.”

Mark Rendell

1:56 p.m. ET

Alberta Health Services to help find space for NWT’s continuing care residents

Alberta Health Services is working with the Northwest Territories to support evacuation efforts for continuing care residents, according to Iain Bushell, Calgary’s director of emergency management and community safety.

So far, AHS has placed 45 NWT residents in continuing care spaces throughout Alberta, Mr. Bushell said. “This includes addiction and mental health, home care, public health, Indigenous wellness and pharmacy supports.”

Carrie Tait

1:56 p.m. ET

Calgary will host 5,000 NWT evacuees

Calgary, the largest city in Alberta, is prepared to host 5,000 evacuees from the Northwest Territories, according to Iain Bushell, the city’s director of emergency management and community safety.

“We in Calgary are here to help,” Mr. Bushell said at a news conference at Calgary’s Emergency Operations Centre on Thursday morning. “This is a time when communities step up to help others.”

Calgary established an evacuation reception centre at the international airport for evacuees arriving by air, with five evacuation flights from Yellowknife scheduled to arrive Thursday. Various hotels will provide accommodations, Mr. Bushell said.

For evacuees arriving by car, Calgary will create a reception centre at the Westin Calgary Airport hotel.

Every evacuee will be greeted and undergo a “quick assessment” so officials can provide the right support, Mr. Bushell said.

“An emotional and wellness response team will be on site to provide additional support to folks in this very tough time,” he said. The city is also working with animal shelters to provide a place for pets, he added.

Calgary’s standard emergency capacity is for 5,000 evacuees and can be expanded if necessary, Mr. Bushell said. “This is part of our regular preparedness.”

Carrie Tait

1:49 p.m. ET

Air Canada to cap costs of flights out of Yellowknife

The office of Canada’s Transport Minister on Thursday said it has received assurances from the country’s largest airline that it is capping prices for flights out of Yellowknife.

Earlier in the day, social media users shared displays of multi-leg trips offered by several carriers from Yellowknife to Calgary for more than $4,000, flagging concerns over price gouging.

“Our office has reached out to Air Canada and they have confirmed to us that they are capping prices for flights leaving Yellowknife,” said a spokeswoman for Transport Minister Pablo Rodriguez.

– Reuters

1:20 p.m. ET

Lifelong Yellowknife resident recounts his evacuation journey

Chad Hinchey didn’t wait for the official evacuation order to pack his truck and get on the road out of Yellowknife. The writing was in the sky: large plumes of smoke coming from a wildfire burning near the city’s edge, producing an eerie grey-yellow haze.

He spent Wednesday morning carefully choosing what to bring and what to leave behind – things that wouldn’t be missed if they were engulfed in flames. Packed in a handful of storage bins were official documents such as birth certificates, photo albums, sentimental keepsakes from his and his wife’s childhood and the guestbook from their wedding.

Mr. Hinchey, 30, was on the road by 3 p.m. Wednesday, a couple of hours before residents were ordered to leave, and drove almost nine hours to High River in Northern Alberta. He saw trees up in flames on the side of the road, groups of air tankers dropping water and the devastated hamlet of Enterprise.

“It’s just barren for 40, 50 kilometres. You can tell the fire has just torched through there. Buildings are gone,” he said. Around 6 p.m. the sky went completely black. “The best way I can describe it is a dark range road with no streetlights.”

Once he crossed into Alberta, local folks were handing out flats of water and providing fuel to evacuees, some offering spots on their farms for people to camp. Mr. Hinchey continued driving Thursday, making his way to Edmonton, where loved ones are waiting to take him in.

The lifelong Yellowknife resident said he’s lived through previous summers with fires, smoke lingering in the air, but until now he had never feared for the city. His biggest worry isn’t losing his house or belongings: He just wants his family and friends to get out safe, including his wife, who stayed behind to work at the hospital, where she fixes and maintains equipment.

“It’s definitely stressful,” he said. “She was really keen on making sure that we are all safe, but the tough part for us is I don’t know exactly when she will get out. She doesn’t know either.”

Alanna Smith

12:45 p.m. ET

Some Yellowknife hospital services to shut down

The intensive care unit at a Yellowknife hospital is set to close within the day as the Northwest Territories health authority starts reducing its services before wildfires approach.

The Health and Social Services Authority says on its website some services at the Stanton Territorial Hospital, including long-term care, are expected to be closed within the next 24 hours.

It says in-patient units will be moved to other locations in the coming days, if required, and most long-term care patients have been transferred to institutions to the south.

The emergency department remains open at normal service levels and will be maintained as a priority service.

– The Canadian Press

12:20 p.m. ET

A map of Yellowknife evacuation routes and where wildfires are burning

11:52 a.m. ET

Gahcho Kue Diamond Mine continues operations, says De Beers

The blazes have affected industrial and energy production. Diamond producer De Beers said in a statement that its Gahcho Kue mine, some 280 kilometres northeast of Yellowknife, continued to operate although a number of employees from the surrounding communities had been evacuated.

In May 2016, a huge fire destroyed 10 per cent of structures in the northern energy-producing Alberta city of Fort McMurray, forcing the evacuation of 90,000 residents and shut in more than a million barrels per day of oil output.

– Reuters

11:50 a.m. ET

Response teams water bombing, clearcutting to battle flames in Yellowknife

Water bombers are flying low over Yellowknife as thick smoke blankets the capital.

Yellowknife Mayor Rebecca Alty said special teams were clearcutting trees close to the city in a bid to prevent flames from spreading. They also planned to use fire retardant while ensuring that sprinkler systems are working, she told CBC.

Ms. Alty said five flights would be leaving the airport Thursday to transport people who did not have vehicles or did not feel able to make the long drive to Alberta.


11:33 a.m. ET

Trudeau to discuss fires with crisis response group

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau plans to convene a meeting of the Incident Response Group to discuss the fires later on Thursday, his office said. The group is comprised of senior officials and ministers and meets in cases of crisis.

– Reuters

11:25 a.m. ET

Leaders across the territories and B.C. pledge to help evacuees

Whitehorse Mayor Laura Cabott says the city is finalizing plans to offer logistics and humanitarian support to Yellowknife evacuees for as long as needed.

Meanwhile, the government of Nunavut says it’s in regular contact with the Northwest Territories to determine what help it can provide.

In British Columbia, Premier David Eby says the province is “working actively” with officials from the NWT to help evacuees.

Mr. Eby said B.C. is “ready to help the people of the Northwest Territories, just as other provinces have assisted [B.C.] in times of need.”

– The Canadian Press

10:56 a.m. ET

Evacuation out of Yellowknife orderly so far: NWT officials

Officials in Northwest Territories say the evacuation has so far been safe and orderly as convoys flee wildfires in the territorial capital.

Fire Information Officer Mike Westwick says convoys organized by government emergency workers have started to evacuate Yellowknife’s outskirts and northern edge, where a wildfire is just 16 kilometres away.

Strong north winds today could push the fire towards the highway needed for the evacuation, so Westwick says the goal is to have everyone out of the city of 20,000 by tomorrow at noon.

– The Canadian Press

10:53 a.m. ET

Reception centre for evacuees opens in Edmonton

A reception centre just south of Edmonton is set to open its doors to wildfire evacuees from the South Slave region of Northwest Territories.

The centre in Leduc, Alta., was slated to open at 8 a.m. local time for evacuees from the region, including Hay River and Enterprise, after centres in St. Albert and Grande Prairie reached capacity.

The territorial government says evacuees from Yellowknife who can’t find their own accommodations can head to centres in Valleyview, Fox Creek or Red Deer, Alta., which are all due to open at noon.

– The Canadian Press

10:49 a.m. ET

236 wildfires across the Northwest Territories

No new wildfires have been reported in the Northwest Territories in the past 24 hours, but that is scant relief as 236 are already burning — including fires threatening Yellowknife and Hay River.

A wildfire update says more than 21,000 square kilometres have already been burned.

Officials reported overnight that there was some progress on the fire moving toward Hay River, saying the situation had taken a turn in their favour.

– The Canadian Press

10:30 a.m. ET

Yellowknife residents told to evacuate

Residents in the capital of the Northwest Territories have been ordered to leave their city as wildfires threaten to reach the community by the weekend.

Flames are 17 kilometres from Yellowknife’s municipal boundary, and officials said fire will reach the Ingraham Trail by Friday and the outskirts of the city by Saturday unless it rains. Yellowknife is on the north shore of Great Slave Lake, 1,450 kilometres north of Edmonton. Geography, coupled with a plethora of forest fires along the escape route, will complicate the evacuation process.

The NWT, with a population of just 46,000, has limited infrastructure. There is only one road out of Yellowknife to Alberta to the south.

“We must take steps to stay calm and not make decisions that are going to put other people and yourselves in danger,” Premier Caroline Cochrane said. “When you don’t evacuate, you put yourselves and you put our first responders at risk.”

Carrie Tait and Alanna Smith

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