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Urgent evacuations underway as wildfire threatens Canada

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Residents of Yellowknife, a city in Canada’s far north, are in a race against time as they hasten to evacuate ahead of an impending wildfire, set to engulf the remote city and other regions across the vast country.

Since the Northwest Territories authorities issued a city-wide evacuation order late Wednesday, a procession of vehicles has formed along the solitary highway linking the area to Alberta province in the south, as people aim to leave before the midday cutoff at 12:00 pm (1800 GMT).

A total of 1,500 individuals have already left Yellowknife, the administrative capital of the region, via flights, and a surge in flight operations is planned for Friday to remove more of the city’s 20,000 residents.

The nearest evacuation center, situated 1,150 kilometers (700 miles) away in Alberta, has been readied with multiple sites.

In an effort to fend off the encroaching flames, crews have hurried to erect fire barriers while water bombers have been observed flying at low altitudes over the city, collecting water from a nearby lake.

Anticipating northwest winds over the next 48 hours, which could steer the fire towards the city’s periphery, Northwest Territories’ fire information officer Mike Westwick expressed concern about the fire’s trajectory.

Already, numerous military aircraft have been deployed, accompanied by over 120 soldiers, to combat the advancing flames.

This evacuation, now the Northwest Territories’ largest-ever, means that nearly half of the population in this near-Arctic region will soon be displaced.

Notably, various towns and Indigenous communities were already under evacuation orders, and the situation prompted Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to interrupt his summer vacation and convene an incident response group.

In Western Canada, evacuation orders have also been enacted for areas near Kelowna in British Columbia, where a separate fire threatens the safety of around 150,000 residents.

Scientists emphasize that human-induced global warming is intensifying natural hazards, amplifying their frequency and severity.

This marks the second time a substantial Canadian city has been emptied due to wildfires, following the evacuation of 100,000 residents from Fort McMurray in Alberta’s oil and gas heartland in 2016. Earlier this year, suburbs of Halifax on the Atlantic coast also underwent evacuation.

With Canada grappling with a record-setting wildfire season, spanning over 13.7 million hectares (33.9 million acres) as per official estimates, the toll has been grim, resulting in four casualties so far.

Furthermore, waves of smoke intermittently drift into the United States, triggering air quality alerts across large swathes of the central and eastern parts of the nation.

The evacuation operation in Yellowknife occurs against a backdrop of heightened concern about the swift devastation caused by wildfires. This follows the tragic event in which a fast-moving inferno razed a town on Hawaii’s Maui island, resulting in over 100 fatalities.

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