A state of emergency was declared in Quebec’s largest town on Tuesday, as uncontrollable forest fires threatened remote communities in the northwestern parts of the province. More than 150 forest fires were reported to be burning in Quebec, with over 110 of them out of control, according to the province’s forest fire prevention agency. The intense Canadian wildfires are enveloping northeast US and parts of Eastern Canada with a heavy haze, turning the sky yellowish-grey, making the air acrid and prompting warnings for people to stay indoors. The effects of hundreds of wildfires in Quebec were felt as far away as New York City and New England, blotting out skylines and irritating throats.
Chibougamau, a town of approximately 7,500 people in the remote region of Quebec, was evacuated on Tuesday night. Authorities claimed that the evacuation was in progress, with further details promised for Wednesday. François Legault, Premier of Quebec, told reporters in Sept-Îles, Quebec that “there are several places where it is still worrying,” singling out the Abitibi-Témiscamingue region as a particular area of concern. He also indicated that the communities of Normétal and Lebel-sur-Quévillon, at greater risk in northwestern Quebec, are under threat.
Mayor Guy Lafrenière of Lebel-sur-Quévillon, where around 2,100 people were forced to leave their homes at the weekend, said that the fire was approximately ten kilometers (six miles) outside the town, but its advance has been slower than anticipated. The mayor said that the fire began in an area devoid of trees, which slowed down its progress significantly.
Other northern communities, including Chibougamau and the Cree village of Chisasibi on the eastern shore of James Bay, are also at risk. Firefighting assets have been deployed to Hydro-Québec’s Micoua substation near Baie-Comeau, Legault added.
On Monday, Legault stated that authorities had no alternative but to let the hamlet of Clova burn, making many residents upset. Legault said on Tuesday, that he had merely repeated what he was told by fire prevention officials: the fire was too pronounced to send water bombers to the tiny community about 325 kilometers (201 miles) northwest of Montreal. He said that this was still the case on Tuesday, though he noted that no homes had burned.
The owner of Auberge Restaurant Clova, Dominic Vincent, stated that, by Monday afternoon, conditions in the region had already improved, helped by cooler temperatures and a wind direction change. While smoke remained visible, it was much less intense, he added.
Evacuees across Quebec totalled just over 8,300 according to Quebec Natural Resources Minister Maïté Blanchette Vézina, speaking to reporters in Quebec City, down from the 10,000 recorded earlier in the week. However, the Abitibi region remains a concern, Vézina added, as no short-term rain is anticipated to help fight the fires.