Capital of Northwest Territories Is Like a 'Ghost Town'

Thousands are also fleeing wildfires in BC
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Aug 19, 2023 8:01 AM CDT
Capital of Northwest Territories Is Like a 'Ghost Town'
The McDougall Creek wildfire burns on the mountainside above houses in West Kelowna, BC, on Friday, Aug. 18, 2023.   (Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press via AP)

The capital of Canada's Northwest Territories was virtually deserted late Friday after nearly all the residents of the city of just over 20,000 fled as a huge wildfire burned nearby. Officials in said Friday evening that about 19,000 people had left Yellowknife in less than 48 hours, with about 15,000 driving out in convoys and 3,800 leaving on emergency flights, the AP reports. About 2,600 people were still in the city—1,000 of them essential workers, authorities said. Shane Thompson, the territory's minister of environment and climate change, said the wildfire situation remained critical and the non-emergency personnel who stayed were endangering themselves and others. "Please get out now," he said.

Streets were nearly empty and stores shuttered. "It's a ghost town," said Kieron Testart, who was going door to door in the nearby First Nation communities of Dettah and NDilo to check on people. A grocery store and a pharmacy remained open Friday but were expected to close. The last gas station still operating shut down in the afternoon. One bar was still open, drawing exhausted workers at the end of long shifts. "It's kind of like having a pint at the end of the world," Testart said. Cooler temperatures and higher humidity helped firefighters keep the wildfire from advancing Friday, holding it 9 miles northwest of the city's outskirts, fire information officer Mike Westwick said.

"For the first time in a while, we got a little bit of help from weather," he said. But he warned that emergency officials still fear weather conditions could change and propel the fire—one of hundreds raging in the territory—to the city limits. The fire, caused by lightning more than a month ago, is about 644 square miles and "not going away anytime soon," Westwick said

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Hundreds of miles south of Yellowknife, homes burned in West Kelowna, British Columbia, a city of about 38,000, after a wildfire grew "exponentially worse" than expected overnight, officials said. Premier David Eby declared a state of emergency for the province because of the rapidly evolving wildfire situation. Officials in West Kelowna ordered people to evacuate 2,400 properties and alerted an additional 4,800 properties to be ready to leave. (More Canada stories.)

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