Canadian Armed Forces soldiers from 2e Battalion, Royal 22e Régiment, arrive in Yellowknife via a CC-150 Polaris aircraft to support Operation Lentus on August 14, 2023. Photo: Master Corporal Alana Morin, Joint Task Force North, Canadian Armed Forces
Flights were ready to depart wildfire-threatened Yellowknife but there were few people in line to board with just hours before the evacuation window closes, the GNWT said.
In a phone call with Cabin Radio, an NWT government spokesperson said: “Flights are going, but there are not enough people to get on them.”
Hundreds of people waited for nearly half a day outdoors on Thursday, with many understood to have either been turned away or given up.
But at Sir John Franklin High School, the registration centre for the airlift, not enough people were waiting just before 8am on Friday, the spokesperson said.
“Get to Sir John. Flights are going,” they urged.
More than 20 flights are expected to take off from Yellowknife on Friday, with officials estimating that 5,000 people need flights out – 1,500 of whom got flights on Thursday.
Most residents have been leaving the city using its lone highway south, through the wildfire that was 15 km west of Yellowknife as of Thursday night.
An evacuation order issued on Wednesday evening told residents to get out by noon on Friday, with the wildfire expected to reach the city by the weekend if conditions do not improve.
By 9am, there was no lineup at all outside the high school.
Staff and volunteers who had stayed behind to help the airlift expressed bewilderment, having earlier expected Friday to be, if anything, busier than Thursday.
Larger aircraft are standing by, officials said, and the airlift system has become more efficient over time since the first flights were arranged a day earlier.