Firefighters curb wildfires near two Canadian cities as officials warn drier weather on the way

Canada is tackling almost 1,000 blazes across the country

Firefighters kept wildfires at bay near the capital of Canada's Northwest Territories as well as a threatened city in British Columbia, as forecasters warn that drier and windier weather is on the way.

Canada is seeing its worst fire season on record that has destroyed structures, fouled the air with thick smoke and prompted evacuation orders for tens of thousands of residents.

Officials said a huge wildfire again had been kept from advancing closer than 9 miles to Yellowknife, the capital of the Northwest Territories that was left virtually empty when nearly all of its 20,000 residents fled for safety.

The fires were Canada's worst in decades. Credit: AP

To the south, in British Columbia, raging flames were kept away from Kelowna, a city of some 150,000 people.

Fire chiefs said they’ve made some progress in the struggle.

There’s “finally a bit of a glimmer of hope,” West Kelowna Fire Chief Jason Broland told a news conference.

“The weather has allowed us to make progress,” he said, adding that crews were able to conduct more traditional firefighting techniques such as putting out hot spots.

If “conditions hold as they are,” he said, fire crews will start to see “real progress being made in a measurable way."

The Kelowna fire is among more than 380 blazes across the province, with 150 burning out of control. The blaze near Yellowknife is one of 237 wildfires burning in the Northwest Territories.

At a Saturday evening news conference, Shane Thompson, the minister of environment and climate change for the Northwest Territories, said the fires near Yellowknife had not grown very much in the past few days thanks to breaks in the weather.

“But I want to be clear, a little bit of rain doesn’t mean it’s safe to come back home,” he said.

The city has become a virtual ghost town since residents fled following an evacuation order issued on Wednesday evening.

Long caravans of cars choked the main highway and people lined up for emergency flights to escape the blaze.

At least 20,000 people have evacuated. Credit: AP

The last 39 hospital patients were flown out Friday night on a Canadian Forces plane, officials said.

On Saturday, officials said the escape route out of Yellowknife was safe, for the time being.

About 2,600 people remained in town, including emergency teams, firefighters, utility workers and police officers, along with some residents who refused to leave.

Canada has seen a record number of wildfires this year that have caused choking smoke in parts of the US.

All told, there have been more than 5,700 fires, which have burned more than 53,000 square miles from one end of Canada to the other.

Want a quick and expert briefing on the biggest news stories? Listen to our latest podcasts to find out What You Need To Know…