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'I'm glad I was able to get out early': 27,000 people forced to flee because of N.W.T. wildfires, many heading to Alberta

A phased evacuation order was issued Wednesday evening for Yellowknife, the capital of the Northwest Territories, as a result of wildfires.

Evacuees have been told to go to Alberta assistance centres in Valleyview, Fox Creek or Red Deerif they're driving.

Those unable to leave by car will be flown to Calgary starting Thursday afternoon.

Madison Walls and her cat Scout arrived at the Edmonton airport from Yellowknife on Thursday.

"I booked this flight yesterday morning before we got the evacuation order just in case, and it ended up coming in really handy," she told reporters at the Edmonton International Airport.

"I had purchased a second, fully refundable one for Sunday."

"I'm glad I was able to get out early."

She says getting Scout out of the city was non-negotiable.

"He was definitely my biggest priority,” said Walls. “I was super worried I wouldn’t be able to get him on a flight, but I wasn’t going to leave the city without him."

Walls says she plans to go to her parents' house in Regina while she waits for the evacuation order to be lifted.

Yellowknife, N.W.T. resident Madison Walls speaks to reporters at the Edmonton International Airport on Aug. 17, 2023. (Brandon Lynch/CTV News Edmonton)

"I don’t think it has sunk in yet," she said.

"The whole summer it’s been really smoky, but I don’t think I ever really thought that it was going to become an evacuation until Monday of this week. Things just started to get worse much faster."

Walls is one of approximately 27,000 people in the Northwest Territories who are under an evacuation order.

Many of those people are expected to head to Alberta.

The provincial government said in a news release it has been working with officials in the Northwest Territories to help provide evacuees support.

That includes providing up-to-date information for evacuees online and, starting Friday, a toll-free number 310-4455 8 a.m.- 8 p.m. for those seeking information.

"Albertans understand all too well how challenging and stressful it is to be evacuated from their homes due to wildfires, which is why we’re stepping up to help," Premier Danielle Smith said in a statement. "I want to reassure evacuees coming to Alberta that we are doing everything we can to make sure they have the supports they need."

An emergency operations centre opened in Leduc on Thursday to connect evacuees with hotels and provide information.

Fort Smith, N.W.T., residents Joshua Gauthier, his wife and young son went to the centre Thursday morning to register.

They were driving home after landing in Edmonton after a family trip to the east coast when they got the news about the evacuation order.

"We were just outside Westlock, actually," he told CTV News Edmonton.

He says they hadn't even considered that an evacuation could be called when they left on vacation.

"We weren’t too worried. We didn't even pack up the house," he said Thursday, speaking outside the centre in Leduc.

Joshua Gauthier of Fort Smith, N.W.T. speaks to CTV News Edmonton in Leduc on Aug. 17, 2023. (Jeremy Thompson/CTV News Edmonton)

"We left a lot of the baby things that would have helped us."

Another family member brought their dog down to Leduc.

"That was really nice."

They're currently staying with his wife's sister in the Edmonton-area while they wait to go home.

Scott MacDonald of the Leduc Fire Service said 281 people had registered at the centre as of 1:30 p.m. on Thursday.

The city has secured 118 hotel rooms for evacuees and is working to secure more.

The hotel rooms are being paid for by the province through its emergency management agency. 

A similar centre in St. Albert closed on Wednesday after reaching capacity.

The City of Edmonton has announced evacuees will be welcomed at the Edmonton Expo Centre in Hall C starting Friday at noon.

"The Centre will provide all immediate needs for evacuees including temporary lodging, food services, clothing, pet day care and health care," the city said in a Thursday news release. "Evacuees can bring their pets but are encouraged to not leave animals in vehicles due to the hot temperature expected."

With files from CTV News Edmonton's David Ewasuk and Jeremy Thompson Top Stories

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