RCMP identify two arson attempts amid Yellowknife wildfire evacuations

Yellowknife RCMP received two reports of alleged arson Tuesday evening before the territory issued widespread evacuations of 20,000 people from the capital.

RCMP identify two arson attempts amid Yellowknife wildfire evacuations
The Canadian Press / Bill Braden
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Local law enforcement has charged and arrested four female youths with arson for attempting to start a fire along Burwash Drive that a resident managed to put out.

RCMP issued a statement Wednesday morning that “four females were attempting to light a fire in a small green space” at approximately 11:21 p.m.

They arrested all four and seized aerosol cans and lighters used in the incident. A nearby house captured the careless act on its home security system.

In the news release, police said this is one of two alleged arson attempts they are investigating in Yellowknife.

Police spotted the Long Lake fire at approximately 10:03 p.m. and immediately called in the Yellowknife Fire Department, reported the CBC.

RCMP are still searching for the two men suspected of starting a fire near Long Lake on the northwest side of the city Tuesday night.

“A witness in the area reported seeing two men running from the area wearing black clothing,” they said. No further description of the assailants has been made available at the time of writing. 

“It should go without having to be said, incidents like these pose a very serious risk to our community,” said RCMP spokesperson Cpl Matt Halstead.

“A significant fire behind the city’s line of defence could have devastating consequences and take valuable resources away from the ongoing wildfire fighting efforts underway,” he said.

“It is beyond understanding that in the face of everything in the territory and the threat approaching our city, people would actively attempt to start fires and endanger our community members. The RCMP will investigate these incidents to the fullest.”

Both incidents came on the heels of an encroaching wildfire 16 kilometres northwest of Yellowknife. Shortly after RCMP received both reports of suspected arson, the Northwest Territories declared a state of emergency.

Across the city, residents continue to deal with heavy smoke and falling ash while crews attempt to contain the blaze from entering the community.

Several areas of the city, including the Kam Lake business district, Engle industrial area and Grace Lake, received an evacuation alert Tuesday night. 

The territory ordered the evacuation of the entire city the following morning.

N.W.T. Environment and Climate Change Minister Shane Thompson urged residents to leave by noon Friday.

“I want to be clear that the city is not in immediate danger, and there is a safe window for residents to leave the city by road and by air,” he told reporters.

According to the evacuation order, buses and planes will be available to evacuate residents, with air evacuations commencing Thursday at 1 p.m.

“Please take this order seriously and be prepared to leave the city by Friday,” said Thompson.

Yellowknife evacuees travelling by air are being directed to Calgary, reported Global News, with others being instructed to head to the following locations for support:

  • Polar Place Arena, 4429 52nd Ave., Valleyview, Alta.
  • Fox Creek Hall, 200 First St., Fox Creek, Alta.
  • G.H. Dawe Community Centre, 6175 67th St., Red Deer, Alta.

The territory informed evacuees that no further support would be available outside these locations.

“We have worked with Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba to identify host communities […] The initial host community will be Calgary, and we will re-evaluate if necessary,” Emily King, N.W.T’s director of public safety, told reporters.

She added that the details of the blaze risk are subject to an ongoing evaluation.

N.W.T. fire information officer Mike Westwick said the blaze could reach Yellowknife by the weekend without rain to slow its progress.

Fire crews are setting up sprinklers and control lines close to the city to try and keep the city safe while crews attack the fire head-on.

“We’ve been fighting this fire for over a month,” said Westwick. “This fire has burned deep, this fire has burned hot, and it’s found its way through multiple sets of established lines since the fire began.”

“This is a sign of the season we’re facing and the extraordinary conditions.”

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