Anyone remaining in Yellowknife, Ndılǫ and Dettah must leave by noon on Friday, residents were told in a fresh, blanket evacuation order for the city on Wednesday evening. Hundreds of vehicles had begun streaming down a smoky Highway 3 west of the city by the end of the day, with mercy flights due to take place throughout Thursday. Various Alberta communities, including Fox Creek, Valleyview and Red Deer, have opened up as hosts for evacuees, with more expected to follow. Cabin Radio is updating a page of supports for evacuees.
NWT environment minister Shane Thompson called it a “phased evacuation,” saying people in western areas of the city should leave first – as soon as possible, on Wednesday – alongside residents of Dettah and the Ingraham Trail. Here’s the document that sets out the exact plan and how you should proceed to evacuate by road or air.
Mayor of Yellowknife Rebecca Alty said the evacuation was being declared now because authorities believe the fire’s behaviour will allow time for everyone to get out on Wednesday night and Thursday. Flights will begin on Thursday morning and continue until everyone is out. An evacuation centre at Yellowknife’s multiplex will help everyone who needs it. “The city is not in immediate danger and there is a safe window for residents to leave by road or air,” Alty said.
Western areas of Yellowknife had already been on evacuation alert. A separate evacuation order had been issued for homes and cabins along the highway west of the municipal boundary.
A wildfire has been steadily closing on the city all week, moving within 20 kilometres of Yellowknife on Tuesday and forecast to end Wednesday as close as 11 kilometres away. Hundreds of residents were estimated to have already left prior to an order being issued. Wednesday’s announcement marked an abandonment of the city’s previous plan to handled a nearby wildfire, in favour of a road and air evacuation that had until this week been discounted as a likely outcome.
Up till now, the city’s stated plan had relied primarily on moving residents around the city out of harm’s way, using facilities like the multiplex to house anyone displaced who had nowhere else to go. A road or aerial evacuation had been described as a last resort. “It would have to be something that would be a massive kind of incident,” city manager Sheila Bassi-Kellett said at a briefing two days before the order was announced. The window given by officials suggests they believe Thursday’s weather will hold the fire long enough to allow clear passage for thousands of people down Highway 3, the only road connecting Yellowknife to the rest of Canada. Cities of any size in Alberta and BC are many hundreds of kilometres away.
Comment: Forest fires have been playing havoc all over the world this year. The Canadian fires are not that unusual. They have a fire season every year, but this year that especially numerous and extend further north than usual. Even tundra is burning this year. Normally this is too boggy to burn, but it dried out this year. I remember tundra vegetation being two feet deep or so. that’s a lot of fuel. Luckily these northern fires not near as fast moving as the Maui fire.
The total evacuation of Yellowknife is a massive undertaking. There’s one long road out which entails a 22 hour drive to Alberta. Tankers and tow trucks have been stationed along the evacuation route. The Canadian Air Force is also airlifting residents out of Yellowknife and other towns. The town of Enterprise with a population of only a hundred or so, has already been 90% destroyed by fire.
Norther Canada is so large and remote that the only real response is vigilance and effective evacuation plans. I don’t think it’s going to get any easier in the years to come. Hawaii is going to have to something with their land management. It will be expensive. I doubt they can bring back their sugar plantations.