Officials in the Northwest Territories are urging thousands of residents remaining in its capital to leave by noon today before a nearby wildfire could cut off access.

The evacuation of Yellowknife was ordered late Wednesday and sprinklers, water cannons and fire guards are being set up to protect the city of 20,000 people.

Convoys of vehicles have steadily been leaving for hotels and evacuation centres in Alberta.

On Thursday, in additional to commercial planes, about 1,500 people left on evacuation flights.

Officials say more flights are scheduled for today that could take about 1,800 people out of the city.

They say inmates have already been sent to jails in Alberta and Yukon and there will be a full evacuation of the hospital.

Several other communities in the territory, including the town of Hay River, ordered residents out earlier this week.

Shane Thompson, the N.W.T.'s environment and communities minister, told a news conference late Thursday that the fire situation remains critical.

There were 236 fires burning and it was last reported that flames were about 16 kilometres from Yellowknife.

Remaining residents in #Yellowknife urged to get out as sprinklers, fire guards set up. #NWT #Wildfires

"I urge all residents under evacuation orders to please adhere to them as they are issued," Thompson said.

"These orders are never issued lightly and always consider our collective health and safety. You could be jeopardizing your safety and that of others."

Beatrice Bernhardt, 70, arrived with her husband at the Calgary airport Thursday. She said all they could see in Yellowknife over the last three weeks was smoke.

"It's just a relief to feel safe," she said. "But it's also very painful of what you're leaving behind."

Alice Liske said she drove out of Yellowknife with her six kids on Tuesday because the air quality was so bad. She was set to reach an aunt's home in Edmonton on Thursday.

She said the thought of getting so many people out of Yellowknife in only a few days is nerve-racking.

“Not only that, but when we go back what will be there for us?"

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Aug. 18, 2023.

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