In western Canada, residents of the city of Yellowknife and neighboring First Nations communities Ndilo and Dettah are fleeing a raging wildfire that is only about 10 miles away from the city. Yellowknife is the capital city of the remote Northwest Territories (NWT) and is home to roughly 20,000 people. More than 200 wildfires have already burned large areas of the NWT this fire season.

[Related: How to mask up to protect yourself from wildfire smoke.]

“The fire now represents a real threat to the city,” the NWT’s environment and climate change minister Shane Thompson, said at a news conference on Wednesday evening.

The evacuation advisory covers about 22,000 people and was issued on Wednesday August 16, with local officials urging residents in the most vulnerable areas to leave immediately. Others were advised to evacuate before noon on Friday August 18. Officials fear that the highway linking outside communities to Yellowknife could be engulfed in flames as early as Friday and urged people to drive south to Alberta if possible. Escort vehicles have been assigned to guide drivers, as the smoke has already made visibility difficult in some areas. 

Those who are unable to leave by vehicle and residents who are immunocompromised or have other conditions that put them at higher risk, can register for evacuation flights. Air evacuations are scheduled to begin today at 1 PM local time. 

Residents were also warned not to flee to the islands in the Great Slave Lake, as the air quality in the region is expected to deteriorate as the fires get closer. 

A NASA satellite image of the fires taken on August 8, 2023. CREDIT: NASA/Michala Garrison.
A NASA satellite image of the fires taken on August 8, 2023. CREDIT: NASA/Michala Garrison.

According to the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, Yellowknife and its surrounding communities now join NWT communities Fort Smith, Hay River, the Kátł’odeeche First Nation, Enterprise, and Jean Marie River as places whose residents are displaced due to out of control fires.

[Related: Clouds of wildfire smoke are toxic to humans and animals alike.]

So far, this has been Canada’s worst wildfire season on record, largely driven by human-caused climate change. Currently, 1,067 active wildfires are burning in the country, with 230 in the NWT. They have burned more than 8,000 square miles of land–an area already 91 times as large as last year’s entire fire season–and have impacted parts of nearly all of Canada’s 13 provinces. Smoke from the fires has traveled as far east as Europe, and blanketed New York City and other major population centers as far south as the state of Georgia

Western Canada is also facing a heat wave that broke 17 daily temperature records on August 14 and smashed 18 records the following day. The heat could further exacerbate the wildfires.