Record-breaking wildfires in Canada, which have already scorched an area larger than Greece, are heading toward key population centers, forcing tens of thousands to evacuate.
(Bloomberg) — Record-breaking wildfires in Canada, which have already scorched an area larger than Greece, are heading toward key population centers, forcing tens of thousands to evacuate.
Authorities declared a state of emergency in Kelowna, the largest city in British Columbia’s Okanagan Valley, an idyllic tourist region known for its vineyards, orchards and ski hills. Meanwhile, the entire population of the Northwest Territories capital of Yellowknife, about 22,000 people, continued to flee with an evacuation deadline set for 12 p.m. local time Friday.
Climate change has made heat and drought more extreme, leading to more intense wildfires globally from Hawaii to the Greek island of Rhodes. In Canada, the number of fires and the total area burned are both well above average for this time of year. Over the past few months, wildfires have disrupted oil and gas production in Alberta and sent choking smoke into Toronto, Ottawa and parts of the US, including New York City.
Wildfires Are Set to Double Canada’s Climate Emissions This Year
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government is working with local authorities to assist in evacuation and firefighting efforts as wildfires remain “very active and unpredictable,” officials said at a briefing on Friday. The extent of the damage isn’t fully known.
In British Columbia, an evacuation order was issued for the majority of the city of West Kelowna, which lies on the other side of Lake Okanagan. The entire city of Kelowna, with a population of about 150,000 people, was on alert and evacuations had begun to the north of the city as well.
Satellite images indicated increased wildfire activity in the Western Canada province, and videos and photos from the area showed large fires engulfing trees and some buildings, strong winds fanning the flames and a sky filled with smoke.
Flights at Kelowna International Airport were canceled on Friday, after airspace surrounding the area was closed to allow aerial firefighting activity.
While the region is used to fires, British Columbia is experiencing the most destructive wildfire season on record, with an area nearly the size of New Jersey already burned.
This week marks the 20th anniversary of the 2003 Okanagan Mountain Park Fire, which destroyed hundreds of homes to the south of Kelowna but stopped short of reaching the city.
Meanwhile, a map of the Northwest Territories showed hundreds of wildfires including those burning to the north, west and east of Yellowknife, which sits on the north shore of Great Slave Lake, about 400 kilometers (250 miles) south of the Arctic Circle. Across the lake, an earlier evacuation in the town of Hay River had previously sent some evacuees to Yellowknife.
People lined the streets of the Northern city for hours, waiting to get on 22 evacuation flights scheduled for Friday while cars jammed the sole highway out of the capital. Officials said they expect to have moved several thousand people out by air by the end of Friday.
Officials are currently working to prevent further fire outbreaks and protect critical infrastructure in the city of Yellowknife, and military aircraft were deployed to evacuate people from hospitals and residents of long-term care facilities.
The decision by Meta Platforms Inc. to end news availability on Facebook and Instagram in Canada has prevented some evacuees from sharing articles on their social media platforms. A Meta spokesperson said in an email that Facebook activated “Safety Check” on Thursday for the Yellowknife wildfires to allow users “to let their friends and family know they are safe” and to “access updates from reputable sources.”
(Updates with more details from government briefing. An earlier version corrected the population figure for Kelowna.)
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