Residents fled the capital city of Canada’s Northwest Territories on Thursday, after officials ordered an evacuation because of approaching wildfires.
The people of Yellowknife, with a population of 20,000, and other smaller communities are leaving by car and by airlift. While the main road out of town, Highway 3, had been closed due to the fires, it was reopened Thursday so people could get to safety.
“This is an unprecedented time for the city of Yellowknife,” Morgan Tsetta said through tears in a TikTok video released Wednesday night “This is my home and I’m really scared.”
Tsetta is a member of the Yellowknives Dene First Nation. More than 230 fires are burning in the Northwest Territories of Canada, scorching over 8,000 miles of forest, and displacing hundreds of Indigenous and First Nations peoples. The population of the Northwest Territories is nearly 50 percent Indigenous.
Residents have until noon Friday, August 18, to comply with the evacuation order. It is the largest in the wildfire season this year so far.
Wildfires have spread across Canada with greater intensity than ever before this year, with more than 1,000 fires occurring since the start of the year. On June 25, the Canadian Interagency Forest Fire Centre declared that the 2023 wildfire season had burned the largest area in Canada’s recorded history: nearly 52,000 miles. Canadian fires in June sent massive smoke clouds to the East Coast of the United States, endangering the health of millions of residents. The air quality in some areas got as high as 486, nearing the top of the Environmental Protection Agency’s 500-point air quality scale, meaning the air was dangerous to breathe.
The fires in the Northwest Territories started over the weekend due to lightning strikes and extreme winds that pushed the flames throughout the region. On Monday, local officials issued warnings which advised residents in multiple towns and hamlets to evacuate as wildfires spread near the communities some of which reached a level 3 threat, which is the highest on the scale meaning imminent danger.
This story has been updated to report on the evacuation of Yellowknife.