Canada suffers this year the worst season of forest fires in its history. EFE/FILE/Julio Cesar Rivas

Canada orders evacuation after devastating wildfires in Northwest Territories

Toronto, Canada, Aug 17 (EFE).- Authorities have ordered the evacuation of around 20,000 inhabitants from Yellowknife, the capital of Northwest Territories, as a devastating wave of forest fires neared the city.

Northwest Territories Environment Minister Shane Thompson said on Wednesday that while the city was not under an immediate threat, flames from the forest fires had reached its outskirts.

“Unfortunately, our wildfire situation has taken another turn for the worse with a fire burning west of Yellowknife now representing a real threat to the city,” Thompson said.

He told reporters the flames were about 17 km from Yellowknife and could reach the city limits over the weekend.

“Without rain, it is possible (the fire) will reach the city outskirts by the weekend.”

The evacuation order also affects the inhabitants of other towns like Ndilo, Dettah, and Ingraham Trail.

The Northwest Territories is a 1.15 million square km region in the far north of Canada with a population of about 45,000, many of them indigenous.

Northwest Territories Premier Caroline Cochrane Wednesday urged the inhabitants to obey evacuation orders.

“When you do not evacuate, you put your lives in danger as well as those of emergency personnel,” Cochrane said.

She urged people to remain calm, warning that highways could close suddenly because of the fire risk.

“I have never seen so many vehicles leaving town,” Cochrane said. “There are all kinds of rumors out there, but be ready and evacuate if necessary. Be calm. Do not panic.”

Four large wildfires have surrounded Yellowknife.

The authorities have asked people to be ready for air evacuation if they cannot leave Yellowknife by road.

The first evacuation flights for people with health or mobility problems will begin on Thursday afternoon.

The highway connecting Yellowknife with the south remained open to traffic amid reduced visibility due to a cloud of thick smoke from the fires.

Authorities have put in service emergency vehicles in some areas to guide those who escape by road.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau spoke with the Premier of the Northwest Territories, Caroline Cochrane.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau spoke with Cochrane to discuss the current wildfire situation, including the territorial state of emergency, the threat to Yellowknife residents, and the evacuation orders.

Canada is experiencing the worst wildfire season in its history and the authorities have blamed climate change for the disasters amid record-high temperatures and extreme dryness.

According to authorities over 230 wildfires are burning in the Northwest Territories, and thousands of residents have fled their homes while more than 20,000 sq km of areas have been devastated.

The country had 1,067 active fires, of which 676 were blazing out of control on Tuesday.

The flames have destroyed a record nearly 137,000 sq km of forests this year, slightly more than the area of Greece.

The previous record was in 1995 when forest fires devastated 71,059 sq km.

In the last decade, the annual average amount of forest burned by forest fires has been 21,000 sq km. EFE