MONTREAL – Wildfires in northwest Quebec prompted thousands to evacuate the area over the weekend as the number of fires topped 150 and firefighters and the military poured into parts of the province to battle the encroaching blazes , even a
MONTREAL – Wildfires in northwest Quebec prompted thousands to evacuate the area over the weekend as the number of fires topped 150 and firefighters and the military poured into parts of the province to battle the encroaching blazes , even as that threat eased slightly Sunday on the North Coast.
Some 5,500 residents of the Abitibi-Témiscamingue region, which borders Ontario, have been relocated, Public Safety Minister François Bonnardel said at a news conference in Montreal.
Another 4,500 people in the North Shore community of Sept-Îles and its outskirts were also forced to leave their homes due to a pair of wildfires burning north of the city, but no further evacuations are planned at this time, he said. Bonnardel.
Rain is expected in the area in the coming days, although not as much as initially forecast, and the wind direction there and in Abitibi is favourable, it added.
However, the state of emergency in Sept-Îles, which is about 890 kilometers northeast of Montreal, has been extended for five days, with evacuation orders in effect at least until Monday morning. About 100 soldiers were scheduled to arrive Sunday night to lend a hand, hot on the heels of the 100 who landed in the city on Saturday.
The number of forest fires in the province rose to 156 on Sunday from 134 the day before, including 35 being actively fought by teams from the Quebec forest fire prevention organization SOPFEU.
“We are concentrating our battles on these fires because we want to protect human life, houses and businesses. And we want to protect our infrastructure, like that of Hydro-Québec,” Bonnardel said at the press conference held with other public officials at the provincial police headquarters. .
Hundreds of soldiers will be deployed across the province, joining the 475 firefighters under the SOPFEU banner, he said. Another 200 provincial police officers are also deployed in the most affected regions.
“Within a few days, there should be over 1,000 people on the ground to fight these fires,” Bonnardel said.
Included in that figure are 100 firefighters from France, en route to shore up the effort, French President Emmanuel Macron said in a Twitter post Sunday afternoon. “Canadian friends, reinforcements are coming,” he wrote in French.
“We are facing a situation that has never been seen before,” Minister of Natural Resources and Forests Maïté Blanchette Vézina said at a press conference in Montreal.
Residents are prohibited from entering the forests of several large regions, including northern Quebec, Abitibi-Témiscamingue, Saguenay-Lac-Saint-Jean and parts of the north coast, Outaouais, Mauricie, Lanaudière and Laurentians, Vézina said.
On Saturday night, the regional municipality of Val-d’Or announced the mandatory evacuation of several areas caused by two forest fires and poor air quality. Located within Abitibi-Témiscamingue, the community is in a state of emergency.
Currently, no fire threatens the city of Val-d’Or, SOPFEU said on Sunday. Between 6 p.m. Saturday and 9 a.m. Sunday, public health officials recommended staying home with windows closed because of the smoky haze that was enshrouding the area.
Some 2,000 residents of Lebel-sur-Quévillon, about 620 kilometers northwest of Montreal, received a mandatory evacuation notice Friday night due to nearby fires. The thick smoke initially prevented planes from flying in the area on Sunday morning before it cleared somewhat.
At a press conference in Sept-Îles, Mayor Steeve Beaupré said caution is key.
“The fire situation is evolving in an encouraging way, but it continues to be out of control and threatening for the municipality,” he said.
“The situation may not have gotten worse, but it has to get better… We made the decision to go gradually and watch developments over the next 24 hours.”
Things change with the weather, warned SOPFEU spokeswoman Isabelle Gariépy.
“As long as it’s not contained, the state of a fire can change depending on where we are with the temperature,” he said.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published on June 4, 2023.
Christopher Reynolds and Coralie Laplante, The Canadian Press