Tens of thousands of people have been evacuated from their homes across several sections of Canada after a series of wildfires which threatened to blanket the US in dangerous smog.
In Yellowknife, the capital of the Northwest Territories, more than 20,000 people have been ordered to flee their homes amid ‘out of control’ wildfires that now threaten to cut off access to the only highway out of the affected city.
Meanwhile, there were terrifying scenes 1,200 miles south in Kelowna, British Columbia, after another fire jumped Lake Okanagan and consumed several properties.
The infernos, which have come during Canada’s worst fire season on record, also threaten to send enormous plumes of toxic smog over the United States. An official forecast map shows smoke is expected to be blown south eastwards throughout Friday and over the Midwest into the eastern United States.
Thousands evacuated Yellowknife on Thursday as wildfires burned across the region, forcing convoys of vehicles to snake south to safety on the only open highway.
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Evacuation flights also took off from Yellowknife Airport in the latest chapter in a terrible summer for wildfires in Canada – the worst fire season on record. Residents of the regional capital have been given until noon Friday to leave.
Emergency responders were constructing firebreaks, installing sprinkler lines and water cannons, and laying fire retardant in an effort to prevent the blaze from reaching the city – which remains a real possibility in coming days, officials said.
Strong northern winds could push the flames toward the only highway leading away from the fire, officials warned, which was choked with long caravans of cars.
Northwest winds over the next two days will send the fire ‘in directions we don’t want,’ said Mike Westwick, Northwest Territories’ fire information officer.
Across the wider territory, 6,800 people in eight other communities were also forced to evacuate their homes, including the small community of Enterprise, which was largely destroyed.
Ten planes left Yellowknife on Thursday with 1,500 passengers and 22 more are expected to leave on Friday with 1,800 more passengers.