Canada: Residents race to flee as raging wildfires move closer to city of 20,000

Footage from residents have captured the blaze in Canada's North West Territories

Residents in Canada are rushing to beat a Friday deadline to evacuate their homes as raging wildfires move closer to a city of 20,000 people.

Those in the country's North West Territories have until 12pm local time (7pm BST) to evacuate by road or air ahead of the advancing blaze towards the capital city of Yellowknife.

Thousands fled on Thursday, driving hundreds of miles to safety or waiting in long lines for emergency flights, as the worst fire season on record in Canada showed no signs of easing.

The fire was within ten miles of Yellowknife's northern edge as officials worried that strong northern winds could push the flames toward the only highway leading away from the fire, full of cars of people trying to flee.

Residents are seen queueing to evacuate

On Thursday, ten planes left Yellowknife with 1,500 passengers, officials said, adding they hope to have 22 flights leave on Friday with 1,800 more passengers.

"I want to be clear that the city is not in immediate danger and there’s a safe window for residents to leave the city by road and by air," said Shane Thompson, a government minister for the Territories.

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

Canada has seen a record number of wildfires this year - contributing to choking smoke in parts of the US - with more than 5,700 fires burning more than 137,000 square kilometers (53,000 square miles) from one end of Canada to the other, according to the Canadian Interagency Forest Fire Centre.

Vehicles line-up for fuel at Fort Providence, Northwest Territories on the only road south from Yellowknife. Credit: AP

As of Thursday evening, 1,046 wildfires were burning across the country, more than half of them out of control.

The evacuation of Yellowknife was by far the largest this year, said Ken McMullen, president of the Canadian Association of Fire Chiefs and fire chief in Red Deer, Alberta.

"It's one of those events where you need to get people out sooner rather than later," because fire could block the only escape route before ever reaching the community.

Yellowknife Mayor Rebecca Alty said the fire isn’t the only concern.

"With the heavy smoke that will be approaching we encourage all residents to evacuate as soon as possible," she said.

The fires are racing towards the city. Credit: AP

Ms Alty said some good news is the fire didn’t advance as far as originally expected on Thursday with crews working hard getting firebreaks in. But "it is still coming," she added.

Mike Westwick, a fire information officer, said water bombers were being used to fight the flames.

"We’re heading into a critical couple of days during the management of this fire," he said.

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