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Campfires banned across Quebec, as conditions for forest fires upgraded to 'extreme'

It's been a hot, dry spring, and there are 240 forest fires currently burning across Quebec — nearly double the average for this time of year. All were caused by human error.

There are 240 fires burning across Quebec, nearly double the seasonal average — all caused by human error

Firefighters had to intervene to control a forest fire near Daigle Lake, north of Sept-Îles, on May 20. (Daniel Fontaine/Radio-Canada)

The government may have given the green light to Quebecers to gather outside in groups of 10 starting Friday, but it is the worst time of the year to think of having an evening bonfire.

SOPFEU, Quebec's forest fire prevention agency, has issued a ban on all open campfires across the province. The risk of forest fires was upgraded to extreme this week in almost every region of southern Quebec.

With dry grass and trees still in bud, spring conditions are the most conducive to the spread of fire, according to Mélanie Morin, a prevention and communications officer for SOPFEU. This has been a particularly warm, dry spring.

"On the ground, the branches, the twigs, the grass, the hay — it is very dry," said Morin. "It only takes a bit of wind, and things can get out of hand very quickly."

As of Thursday, there were 240 fires burning across Quebec. The average for this time of year is 134.

Morin said the high number of fires is partly due to the relatively dry spring. Every single fire has been started accidentally by humans — traced back to a campfire that spread or people are burning leaves or grass in their backyards.

"Whenever there is a spark or whenever somebody does not follow the current fire ban, fires can very easily get away from them," Morin said.

The risk of forest fires is considered to be extreme in regions identified in red. Yellow means the risk is high; orange means very high. (SOPFEU)

COVID-19 added risk factor

Most of this spring's fires originated near urban areas and were controlled fairly rapidly, Morin said. There haven't been any major forest fires so far. 

The largest one, a little under a square kilometre in size, is currently burning north of Sept-Îles, on the North Shore, and is considered to be contained. Like in all the other cases, Morin said, the loss of forest was "entirely preventable."

SOPFEU is asking people to be even more cautious because of the pandemic.

"We want to protect our municipal firefighters from going out on very preventable fires — on a needless forest fire," said Morin.

The dry, warm conditions are expected to continue in the coming days in southern Quebec.

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