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20,000 residents of Yellowknife are ordered to flee wildfire

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

The 20,000 residents of Yellowknife in Canada's Northwest Territories are under evacuation orders as wildfires approached the city.

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Yesterday, cars stretched for miles along the two-lane road out of town as residents tried to flee. Those who couldn't leave by car waited hours for chartered flights out of the area. This has been the worst wildfire season ever recorded in Canada. There are now more than 1,000 fires burning across the country.

FADEL: Jayme Doll is with Canada's Global News and she joins me now from Yellowknife. Good morning.

JAYME DOLL: Good morning.

FADEL: So firefighters have been battling this wildfire for over a month. How far away is it from Yellowknife at this point?

DOLL: Well, the last update received, it is 15 kilometers, 9 miles, from the city limits of Yellowknife. But with these dry, warm conditions, lack of rain and the unpredictable winds, fire officials are concerned that it could be on the doorsteps of this capital city as early as Saturday.

FADEL: This evacuation - it's a massive undertaking. A city of 20,000 people, in two days getting everybody out - how's it going?

DOLL: Yeah, I mean, it's a tall order, something that nobody here has ever gone through. We have been seeing lots of people lining up outside an evacuation center where they're to register for a flight out to the southern part of Alberta. And some people waited in line for hours yesterday, you know, with their children and their pets and sitting on their suitcases, only to be told at the end of about four hours or five hours for some that they were to go home, there was no more flights and to come back this morning. So the - we did speak with the premier of the Northwest Territories who said at least 3,000 people were airlifted out yesterday. But of course, they're hoping that number to grow.

PREMIER CAROLINE COCHRANE: The evacuation is going slow and steady. I'm pleased that so far people are - remain calm on the roads out. We have lineups at the people that need flights, but we're trying to organize it so we can stay open. As long as we can fly, we'll keep people going.

FADEL: Now, the government's providing facilities for people who decide to shelter in place. Have you spoken to anyone who is staying, either voluntarily or because they can't leave for one reason or another?

DOLL: Yeah. We have spoken with a lot of frontline workers, people that have to stay here - some hospital workers as well as, of course, the firefighters, but also government officials. But then there are people that have just decided on their own to stay. Now, the Great Slave Lake is right here. And some people are just hoping that if things get really dire, that they're just going to jump in their boats and maybe go camp on an island somewhere until things settle down, the mayor and the premier, everybody dissuading against that, primarily because there's not going to be any services available and in case anyone gets into trouble. And that's just going to be putting more stress on the first responders that are still here.

FADEL: I mean, how common is this now - this - evacuations happening? How much is climate change exacerbating the threat of wildfires? Is this becoming a new normal?

DOLL: Yeah, you know, I've - this is the fourth fire that I've covered this season that people have been evacuated from. I myself was evacuated while on summer vacation just a few weeks ago with my family. So unfortunately, I think this is the new reality. There are a lot of old-growth forests in western Canada with a lot of deadfall fuel. And as temperatures warm, this is what we're going to be seeing.

FADEL: That's reporter Jayme Doll of Canada's Global News. Thank you, Jayme.

DOLL: You're welcome. * Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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