Raging wildfires in British Columbia and the Northwest Territories have caused “apocalyptic devastation” in those regions, Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Monday.
A state of emergency has been declared in B.C., where hundreds of fires across the province have forced mass evacuations. In N.W.T., all residents of the territory’s capital have been ordered to evacuate because of the threat of an encroaching wildfire.
Trudeau, speaking in Cornwall, P.E.I., ahead of a Liberal cabinet retreat, said he met with several N.W.T evacuees on Friday in Edmonton, where they had driven for hours to find safety from the Yellowknife-area fires.
“People are facing horrific situations. People are fleeing for their lives. They’re worried about their communities and Canadians from coast to coast to coast are watching in horror the images of apocalyptic devastation and fires going on in communities that so many of us know and so many of us have friends in,” Trudeau said.
“This is a scary and heartbreaking time for people.”
Wildfires in B.C. and N.W.T will be a “pressing concern” for federal ministers who are gathered at the three-day retreat in P.E.I., Trudeau said.
“We’re continuing to monitor very closely the situation of the fires, both in Kelowna, in Northwest Territories, particularly around Yellowknife and elsewhere. There’s still concerns, but people are working incredibly hard to keep these communities safe.”
On Sunday, Trudeau said the federal government was deploying military assets to B.C. and would be helping with evacuations, staging and other logistical tasks.
The Canadian military has already been deployed to assist firefighting crews in N.W.T.
An Incident Response Group meeting will be held later on Monday to discuss the federal government’s wildfire response.
Canada is battling an unprecedented wildfire season, with a record 14.2 million hectares of land burnt so far this year, according to the Canadian Interagency Forest Fire Centre.
As of Aug. 20, there were 1,039 active fires reported across the country and more than half of those were burning out of control.
— with files from The Canadian Press