The more than 1,400 people forced from their homes because of forest fires near the Wemotaci First Nation in central Quebec have been told it is unlikely they will be able to return home any time soon.
Four forest fires are burning out of control on the territory, located about 300 kilometres north of Trois-Rivières. Smoke and burning sparks were starting to affect the village, according to Quebec's forest fire protection agency.
On Thursday, Native Affairs Minister Pierre Corbeil and the minister responsible for the Mauricie Region, Julie Boulet, visited La Tuque to meet with officials and evacuees.
"There will be no talk of returning to the community until it is possible to do so safely," Corbeil told reporters.
Electricity has been cut off to the community, which is also without drinking water, Corbeil said.
"The situation is evolving from hour to hour," he said.
"They are calling for hot weather and there is not much rain on the horizon. I think [the situation] are something that will unfortunately last for some time."
Provincial police said the fires had been started by lightning storms on Tuesday night.
Corbeil warned people to stay out of the forest in the area. He said the province could issue an order restricting access to the forest because of the danger.
"I am reminding people to exercise extreme prudence and extreme vigilance and to avoid all open fires," he said.
More than 1,400 residents are being helped by the Red Cross, including more than 200 who are being given shelter in a school in La Tuque, said Boulet.
"We have advised them that their homes have not been touched by the fire," she said.
"They are anxious to return home, which is normal and what we have said is that we will do everything we can and hope that Mother Nature co-operates."
Fires close to homes
The fire is so hot that firefighters have been forced to battle the blaze indirectly using water bombers and machinery, the CBC's Marika Wheeler reported from La Tuque, where many residents are staying at an emergency shelter set up at a school.
On Wednesday, the fire came so close to the community that one home was damaged and several sheds burned to the ground, she said.
"We were already ready to go. When we saw there was smoke, we knew we would be evacuated," said one woman at the shelter.
Some residents refused to leave the village, and early Thursday morning several men who had gone to the emergency shelter decided to return home to help battle the blazes.
"It's our village. We have to protect our village," said Wemotaci resident Denis Chilton.
The villagers who stayed were able to save dozens of houses from the fire, he added.
All resources being used
Quebec's forest fire protection agency, SOPFEU, has asked the Canadian Interagency Forest Fire Centre in Winnipeg for more help.
All 800 of the full-time and auxiliary forest firefighters who work with SOPFEU are deployed, said spokesperson Mélanie Morin said Thursday afternoon.
There are a total of 57 fires burning in Quebec, including 14 that are considered out of control, SOPFEU said. The area affected covers more than 27,600 hectares.
Seventy people from the Obejdwan First Nation, farther north than Wemotaci, have also left their village because of health concerns.
Pregnant women, children and people with pulmonary problems have been moved to Roberval in the Saguenay region.