Raging wildfires in British Columbia forced more widespread evacuation orders Friday, as thousands of residents in the city of Yellowknife took to the roads and to the airport to flee the capital of Canada’s Northwest Territories.

Officials declared a state of emergency overnight in Kelowna, a city of about 150,000 residents located 170 miles east of Vancouver, as well as in nearby West Kelowna.

Residents in numerous neighborhoods were told to evacuate their homes, and videos on social media show flames burning on hillsides near Okanagan Lake.

Central Okanagan Emergency Operations said in news releases that the McDougall Creek wildfire threatening the area “remains very active and unpredictable.” They said that overnight, officials had confirmed “some structural loss” in the area, and warned that potentially windy conditions “may worsen wildfire conditions and possible new fire starts.”

The latest evacuation orders came as, hundreds of miles to the north, residents in Yellowknife waited overnight for evacuation flights that were set to resume on Friday, and lines of cars left the territorial capital, heeding warnings from Canadian officials to flee a relentless wildfire. People who could not leave by car, are immunocompromised or have conditions that put them at higher risk were asked to register for evacuation flights that began Thursday.

Wildfire forces entire capital of Canada’s Northwest Territories to evacuate

Officials urged all 20,000 of the city’s residents to leave by Friday noon local time, worried the flames could approach the city by the weekend and further restrict access.

Those fears seem well founded.

Behind a storm system that passed Northwest Territories on Thursday, winds of 15 to 20 mph and gusts above 30 mph are expected to shift, coming largely out of the northwest Friday, then increasingly out of the west through Saturday.

Wildfire risks are rising across U.S., from Hawaii to Oregon to Texas

These changes in wind direction can drive flames toward Yellowknife more readily. Recent winds had mainly pushed the largest fire southward toward the Great Slave Lake.

Air quality alerts also remain in effect for the region, in addition to many others in Canada.

“Smoke is causing poor air quality and reduced visibility,” Environment Canada, a government agency, wrote in a Friday morning statement. Locations in and around Yellowknife were seeing air quality dipping into the unhealthy range, according to PurpleAir, an air quality monitoring network.

Scattered showers will likely dot the area late Friday into Friday night, though the rain will not last long enough or fall hard enough to have any real impact on fire behavior.

Further south in British Columbia, the fires threatening populated areas are just several of nearly 400 wildfires burning across the province, according to the province’s government. Dozens of them, according to a wildfire map, remain classified as “out of control.”

Massive fires, just 15 miles west of Yellowknife, send plumes of smoke toward the city.

Satellite imagery not available in this area.

Source: Copernicus Sentinel-2. Image is a composition of true color and infrared data to highlight fire locations.


Massive fires, just 15 miles west of Yellowknife, send plumes of smoke toward the city.

Satellite imagery not available in this area.

Source: Copernicus Sentinel-2. Image is a composition of true color and infrared data to highlight fire locations.


Over the past week, according to province officials, British Columbia has seen record-breaking heat accompanied by dry air masses. Such heat has exacerbated existing drought conditions affecting much of the province and heightened wildfire risk.

“Given the incoming conditions that may result in rapidly growing and moving wildfires,” the government said in a recent statement, “it is important that people who are placed under an evacuation order leave the area immediately and follow the instructions provided by their local authority or First Nation. Decisions around evacuation orders are not made lightly.”

As the fires spread, locals have fewer ways to share news on evacuation efforts following Meta’s decision in June to block Canadian residents from sharing news articles on Facebook and Instagram in protest of a new law that forces digital platforms to compensate local media outlets for their content.

The Facebook page of the City of Yellowknife on Thursday night urged residents to search Google for the channel that was broadcasting updates on wildfires.

“Due to the recent change in Legislation, the City is unable to share the link because it’s a media source,” the municipality wrote.

The newly passed Online News Act allows news organizations to bargain with tech companies for payment for articles shared on their platforms. If those negotiations fail, the two sides must enter binding arbitration to decide the appropriate compensation.

Proponents have argued the legislation aims to level the playing field between news publishers that have experienced falling revenue and tech giants who are predominant beneficiaries of the digital advertising market. But tech companies like Meta have argued the Canadian law misrepresents the value social media platforms give to publishers who use them to publicize their work.

Meta spokesman Andy Stone said in a statement that “people in Canada can continue to use our technologies to connect with their communities and access reputable information, including content from official government agencies, emergency services and nongovernmental organizations.”

After ordering the evacuation of Yellowknife, government officials said it was safe at the time for residents who are able to evacuate by road and that “flights should be used as a last resort.” About 21 flights with 2,000 seats were scheduled for Friday, and additional flights could be organized for Saturday depending on turnaround and need, the government said.

Officials said flights on Thursday had quickly reached capacity after weather delayed the schedule, resulting in some residents who had been lining up for hours being turned away and asked to return on Friday morning.

Canadian Broadcasting Corp. said about 1,500 people were airlifted out of Yellowknife on Thursday, with an estimated total of 5,000 looking for flights out.

Canadian wildfire triggers race to evacuate entire city of Yellowknife

“We understand that this is deeply frustrating for those who have been in line for several hours and who will need to line up again tomorrow,” the government of the Northwest Territories said.

“Many individuals with mobility issues and who are immunocompromised or have a condition that puts them at higher risk of severe outcomes due to smoke were moved up in line, and we would like to thank everyone for their cooperation in making this happen,” the statement added.

Air travel was organized for at-risk residents including chemotherapy patients, seniors and people with disabilities, as well as inmates and corrections officers, according to CBC. It said hospital patients would be airlifted Friday out of Yellowknife — which sits about 350 miles south of the Arctic Circle and 600 miles north of Edmonton.

Canada’s raging fires have burned the equivalent of Alabama

Air Canada said it added extra flights out of Yellowknife and that it had capped fares from “the earliest possible time,” after some airlines faced allegations of price escalation. It said flights for the next few days were “fairly full,” and that it would monitor updates closely to “adjust our schedule as we can.”

The city of Edmonton, in Canada’s Alberta province, said it would begin accepting evacuees on Friday at an expo center, which would provide temporary lodging, food, clothing, pet day care and health care.

Mike Westwick, a Northwest Territories fire information officer, said in an update Thursday evening that firefighters “managed to not have the highway be impacted as folks make their way to safety from our capital city.”

Fires in the wider Northwest Territories have scorched homes and forced other evacuations over the past week. Westwick said this was “yet another example of the kind of severe fire season that we’re facing this year and the extraordinary human toll it’s taking.”

That severe season has now stretched for months.

It’s Canada’s worst fire season in modern history, as smoke fills skies

More than 1,000 active fires were raging across Canada on Friday, as a combination of record-challenging heat, climate change and long-term drought has exacerbated the wildfire season. This year’s fires have burned twice as much land in the country as any previous season — an area equivalent to Alabama.

But Canada is hardly the only place on the planet experiencing fierce and destructive wildfires this summer.

The deadly fire in Maui, which killed at least 111 people, was also driven by high winds and dry conditions. Following a relatively quiet start to the U.S. fire season, the National Interagency Fire Center raised the preparedness level to 4 on a scale of 1 to 5 on Thursday. The alert level was increased due to major fires in multiple regions across the country, plus the potential for more to come.

The 1.7 million acres burned so far in the United States is the lowest over the past decade to date. But fires have taken hold in particular in places where drought is ongoing, such as the Pacific Northwest and the northern Rockies.

Other afflicted zones include northern Africa and southern Europe, where record-breaking heat waves have unfolded this summer, and another spell of extraordinary heat is ongoing.

On the Spanish Canary island of Tenerife, a roughly 10,000-acre fire that broke out Tuesday has caused thousands to be evacuated.

“This is probably the most complicated blaze we have had on the Canary Islands, if not ever, in at least the last 40 years,” Regional President Fernando Clavijo said during a news conference.

Much of the Iberian Peninsula is also enduring another year of severe drought, with major wildfires burning in parts of mainland Europe over recent weeks, including Spain, Portugal, Italy and Greece — all places touched by record-breaking heat during the past few months.

Naomi Nix contributed to this report.

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