Montreal

Forest fire burning northeast of Lac Saint-Jean headed toward major Hydro plant

According to Quebec's forest fire prevention agency, the fire started in Chute-des-Passes, Que., on Tuesday and shows no signs of slowing down. Wind directions and the hot and dry temperatures in the area have made it a challenge to put out. 

The fire, which started Tuesday, has raged across 58,000 hectares of land so far

Since Friday night, the fire has been sending thick billows of smoke toward a Hydro-Québec station that services more than 85,000 Quebecers. (Submitted by Hydro-Québec)

Firefighters with Quebec's forest fire prevention agency (SOPFEU) are battling a major forest fire northeast of Lac Saint-Jean. 

The fire has already raged across 58,000 hectares of land and is now headed toward Pipmuacan Reservoir, between the Saguenay–Lac-Saint-Jean and Côte-Nord regions, where there are dozens of cottages, homes, and hunting and fishing camps.

"It's too early to assess the type of damage, how many cottages have been affected," said SOPFEU spokesperson Mélanie Morin.

"When we see a perimeter this big, it's easy to jump to conclusions and think that everything within that perimeter has burned. It may not have."

The fire is also closing in on the Peribonka Hydro-Québec station, which serves nearly 85,000 customers across the province. 

Morin said if necessary, special measures can be taken to protect the station such as installing sprinkler systems and removing the vegetation nearby. 

Maxence Huard-Lefebvre, a spokesperson for Hydro-Québec, said he believes the SOPFEU crews will have the situation under control. 

"There is absolutely no risk for the electricity supply. We have over 60 hydroelectric power stations in Quebec and Peribonka is just one of those so we have plenty of power to supply," Huard-Lefebvre said. 

"We do not anticipate long-term impacts or consequences among our assets but we have to monitor the situation very closely."

Hot, dry temperatures present a challenge

The fire started in the Chute-des-Passes area on Tuesday and shows no signs of slowing down. Wind directions and the hot and dry temperatures in the area have made it a challenge to put out. 

More than 49 firefighters are fighting the flames Saturday. Morin said the flames have gotten too dangerous to deal with from the ground. 

"We're doing water bombers, helicopter water bombing as well. We have tactical teams doing infrastructure protection," she said.

Quebec's Ministry of Forests, Wildlife and Parks called for the evacuation of the Chute-des-Passes area Friday afternoon. It has also restricted access to the forest and set up road blocks in the region. 

In a Tweet Friday evening, Premier François Legault said the Quebec government is following the situation closely. 

"SOPFEU has been deployed and are trying to control the situation but it remains difficult. Our priority: the safety of Quebecers in nearby areas," Legault wrote. 

It's believed recreational activity in the region started the fire. With a heat warning in effect for most of southern Quebec, SOPFEU has issued a ban on open fires for much of the province. 

According to SOPFEU, nearly 75 per cent of the province's forest fires could be prevented every year. 

There are currently 13 active forest and brush fires in Quebec. 

With files from Radio-Canada

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