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An evacuation order was lifted for the northern Canadian city of Yellowknife on Wednesday, three weeks after a nearby wildfire forced the city’s 20,000 residents out of their homes.
The order for the capital of the Northwest Territories, which also included two the First Nation communities in the area, was downgraded Wednesday to an evacuation alert.
The fire is considered held, meaning it wasn’t expected to grow under current conditions.
Thousands of vehicles are expected to travel to Yellowknife in the coming days, and the first flight back to the territorial capital arrived this morning.
Angela Canning rushed to the highway Wednesday morning to wave at the stream of vehicles heading back to Yellowknife as the evacuation order was lifted.
“I’m very excited to have life come back to the city,” said the lifelong resident.
Yellowknife Mayor Rebecca Alty posted on social media that she requested the order be lifted.
“Safe travels home today,” Alty said.
A giant banner with “welcome home” was put up at the road entering Yellowknife to greet the thousands of vehicles that are expected to travel back to the city in the coming days.
Canning said she joined others by the sign to cheer on the first vehicles that drove into the community after the order was lifted. There was honking and waving as the drive-by celebration marked a step toward normal life.
Canning knows the relief of returning home. She stayed in a camping trailer for 17 days in Fort Providence, southwest of Yellowknife. She was able to return over the weekend because her husband is an essential worker.
“I don’t know if I’ll ever want to go camping again,” she said.
Caravans of vehicles lined up at the Big River Service Station in Fort Providence throughout the day. Linda Croft, the general manager, said she brought in extra staff to help direct traffic through the gas pumps.
Residents have been advised to prepare to be self-reliant for 72 hours upon their return.
Most people left Yellowknife by road, but thousands also took flights with destinations in British Columbia, Alberta and Manitoba.
The first flight back to the territorial capital arrived Wednesday morning.
The territory’s Emergency Management Organization has said more than 2,000 people have registered for re-entry flights.