Thousands try to evacuate the capital of Canada’s Northwest Territories, which has been ravaged by fire

(CNN) — Thousands of residents rushed to evacuate the capital of Canada’s Northwest Territories as more than 200 fires burned across the region, forcing many to brave treacherous road conditions or queue for hours for much-needed emergency flights.

Yellowknife, the capital city of about 20,000 people, and other communities in the Northwest Territories have been ordered to evacuate as crews battle 236 active wildfires in the region. Yellowknife residents have been urged to evacuate the city by Friday afternoon as the massive fire approaches the town and a major highway.

The Northwest region is one of more than 1,000 fires burning in Canada, with the worst fire season on record. Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau met with a group of senior government officials and ministers on Thursday to discuss the ongoing fires and their potential impact on infrastructure, including roads and telecommunications.

The Canadian Armed Forces support firefighting and aviation efforts in the Northwest Territories. The Royal Canadian Air Force has deployed several aircraft and helicopters to support regional emergency teams.

“We are all tired of the expression ‘unprecedented,’ but there is no other way to describe this situation in the Northwest Territories,” Territories Chief Minister Caroline Cochrane said in a statement late Wednesday.

More than 1,000 people left Yellowknife on emergency flights Thursday, and about 2,000 seats were available Friday, regional officials said in an online update. Many hoping to fly on Thursday stood in slow, winding lines for hours before being told to try again on Friday, CNN affiliate CBC reports.

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“It’s especially frustrating for people who stand in line for hours and may have to stand in line again tomorrow,” the update said, adding that people with immunocompromised, mobility problems or other high-risk conditions. Brought forward in line.

Officials are encouraging people to evacuate and share space, if possible, to help reduce traffic congestion and assist those without vehicles.

“Evacuation flights should be used as a last resort for those unwilling to evacuate by road,” officials in the area said.

Off road odyssey

But some fleeing the area encountered roads engulfed in thick smoke and flames. Yellowknife resident Rui Pineda told CNN that he and his family were having trouble getting through the thick fog after the evacuation order was announced Wednesday.

“We’re not really fully prepared,” Pineda said. “On the road, we were all scared of what we saw in front of us, but we kept reminding ourselves that it was better to be out than to be stuck.”

Pineda described dangerous conditions on the road as he and others tried to leave the capital.

“You can see the fire on the highway and we’re dealing with smoke issues,” he said. “The visibility on the road was so bad we couldn’t even see if there was anyone in front of us.”

He and his family were on the road Thursday morning, taking refuge in Edmonton, 900 kilometers to the south.

“Right now we’re so tired. We’re not sleeping, we’re so worried about our home in Yellowknife, are we going to continue to have a home,” Pineda said.

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CNN’s Sarah Smart, Paula Newton and Carol Alvarado contributed to this report.

Esmond Harmon

"Entrepreneur. Social media advocate. Amateur travel guru. Freelance introvert. Thinker."

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