“The situation is unpredictable at the moment and we have tough days ahead of us,” British Columbia (West) Premier David Eby promised on Friday evening.
In the country’s north, 20,000 residents of the town of Yellowknife had to evacuate by Friday afternoon. A complicated race against time because the capital of the Northwest Territories is so isolated.
Some evacuees arrived at the Calgary airport on Friday evening, equipped with small bags, sometimes with a pet, the AFP journalist noted.
“I feel lost and I don’t know what’s going to happen,” said Byron Garrison, a 27-year-old construction worker with his girlfriend and boyfriend, all three scared.
Refugees from the far north are booked into a small room and distributed to hotels. Fruits, biscuits and water are at their disposal. Dogs have their stuff too.
“The government told us: we have to leave. So my wife and I took some clothes and Rosie (hint: their dog),” Richard Manubach, 53, an employee at a cafe in Yellowknife, told AFP.
“I’m sad, he adds. I think of everything in my house and I don’t know what’s going to happen. It’s my only home, you understand?”
Like others, he hopes to stay in Calgary only for “three or four days.”
A mustered army
Chad Blewett, an airline pilot in charge of the evacuations, explained to CBC that Yellowknife, where the military is concentrated, is now “pretty empty.”
Most of the evacuations took place by road. About 4,000 people chose the air route, officials said.
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau traveled to Edmonton, about 1,000 km from Yellowknife, on Friday evening, where he met with evacuees from the north at a reception centre.
In front of the press, he promised: “We will all get out of this incredibly difficult summer together”.
Mr. Trudeau spoke of “uncertain and scary times” with more than a thousand fires currently ravaging the country from east to west, including more than 230 fires in the Northwest Territories and more than 370 in British Columbia.
“Mother Nature is very strong”
In the latter province, around 15,000 people living in the region are now affected by evacuation orders and its chief executive David Eby declared a state of emergency on Friday evening.
The fire has particularly affected West Kelowna (over 30,000 people), where a “significant number” of homes have been destroyed, according to officials, and some areas have already been ordered to evacuate.
The fire spread over 6,800 hectares in 24 hours in the sector, where about 2,500 buildings were evacuated from their occupants, and another 5,000 may be.
The situation is also dire across Okanagan Lake in Kelowna (about 150,000 people) and the region’s airspace has been closed to aid air efforts to fight the blaze.
On Friday, the West Kelowna fire chief admitted the previous night was “probably one of the toughest of (his) career.”
“We fought 100 years worth of fires in one night,” Jason Broland told reporters.
“Every effort was made to mitigate the impact of the fire. But in the end, Mother Nature was too strong,” admitted Kelowna local official Loyal Wooldridge. And “unfortunately, we’re not off the hook”.
Canada has faced more extreme weather events in recent years that are increasing in intensity and frequency due to global warming.
The country is experiencing a record wildfire season this year: 168,000 Canadians have been evacuated across the country and 14 million hectares — the size of Greece — are double the last record set in 1989.
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