'It’s like having a pint at the end of the world': Canada cities deserted as thousands flee fires

More than 1,000 fires are burning across Canada, causing thousands of people to flee their homes, as ITV News reporter Jay Akbar has the latest

The capital of Canada's Northwest Territories has become a "ghost town" after nearly all of the city's 20,000 residents fled due to raging wildfires burning nearby.

Streets in Yellowknife have been left empty and stores shuttered.

About 2,600 people were still in the city — 1,000 of them essential workers, authorities said.

“It’s a ghost town,” said Kieron Testart, who was going door to door in the nearby First Nation communities of Dettah and NDilo to check on people.

One bar was still open, drawing exhausted workers at the end of long shifts.

“It’s kind of like having a pint at the end of the world,” Testart said.

The McDougall Creek wildfire burns on the mountainside above houses in West Kelowna, BC. Credit: AP

Shane Thompson, the territory’s minister of environment and climate change, said the wildfire situation was critical and the non-emergency personnel who stayed were endangering themselves and others.

“Please get out now,” he added.

Officials in Northwest Territories said on Friday evening that about 19,000 people had left Yellowknife in less than 48 hours.

About 15,000 residents drove out in convoys and 3,800 leaving on emergency flights.

To the south, in British Columbia, thousands more people were told to leave their homes while firefighters battled a growing blaze which ripped through homes.

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

Cooler temperatures and higher humidity helped firefighters keep the flames from advancing on Friday, holding it 9 miles northwest of Yellowknife's outskirts, fire information officer Mike Westwick said.

He warned that emergency officials still fear weather conditions could change and propel the fire - one of hundreds raging in the territory - to the city limits.

Eleven air tankers bombed water onto the flames and another plane dropped fire retardant.

A six-mile fire line was dug, and firefighters deployed 12 miles of hose and pumps in the fight to keep the fire at bay.

It is “the most extensive heavy water operation we’ve ever seen in the territory,” Mr Westwick said.

Sarah Carr-Locke, who evacuated from Yellowknife, walks her dog at a free campsite provided by the community in High Level, Alberta. Credit: AP

The fire was caused by lightning more than a month ago.

It is about 644 square miles and “not going away anytime soon,” Mr Westwick said.

He said the blaze had jumped three different containment lines, fueled by dry weather and dense forests.

Hundreds of miles south of Yellowknife, homes burned in West Kelowna, British Columbia, a city of about 38,000, after a wildfire grew “exponentially worse” than expected overnight, officials said.

Premier David Eby declared a state of emergency for the province because of the rapidly evolving wildfire situation.

“We are in for an extremely challenging situation in the days ahead,” Mr Eby said at a news conference on Friday evening.

RCMP officers meet at a roadblock after evacuating the Wilden neighbourhood near Knox Mountain. Credit: AP

He said the decree would give authorities a number of legal tools, including the power to prevent people from traveling into dangerous areas and ensure access to accommodations for evacuees and heavy equipment for fighting the fires.

Officials in West Kelowna already ordered people to evacuate 2,400 properties and alerted an additional 4,800 properties to be ready to leave.

The BC Wildfire Service said the fire stretched over 26 square miles.

No casualties had been reported, but some first responders became trapped while rescuing people who failed to evacuate, said Jason Brolund, chief of the West Kelowna fire department.

Canada has seen a record number of wildfires this year - contributing to choking smoke in parts of the United States,

More than 5,700 fires have burned, covering more than 53,000 square miles from one end of Canada to the other, according to the Canadian Interagency Forest Fire Centre.

As of Friday morning, more than 1,000 wildfires were burning across the country, over half of them out of control.

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