Forest fire smoke blankets Montreal, Ottawa

Smoke is wafting into the Montreal and Ottawa regions from forest fires in central and northern Quebec.

Odour from wildfires reported hundreds of kilometres away

Montreal's Jacques-Cartier Bridge is barely visible in the haze. ((CBC))

Pockets of central Canada and the eastern United States were covered in a dull haze on Monday because of smoke drifting from forest fires in central and northern Quebec.

A thick cloud of smoke and a burnt odour covered Montreal Monday morning and was reported as far west as Ottawa.

There were even reports in the U.S. from the National Weather Service of smoke rippling across New England, with a strong smell in Vermont, New Hampshire, Maine, and as far away as Cape Cod, Mass.

Several Montrealers reported having been awakened by the smell, fearing that their home was on fire.

"[I] woke up at 2 a.m.," said Barbara Chapleau, "checked out the street and then figured it must be forest fires."

More than 50 forest fires are still burning in the province, including eight that remain out of control, according to Quebec's public safety agency. More than 720 square kilometres of forest land have been destroyed in the past week, about the equivalent surface area of 1½ Montreal.

While the smell of smoke was strong across the island Monday morning, it wasn't expected to pose any considerable risk to Montreal-area residents.

But people with lung diseases or health conditions were being advised to stay inside and keep their windows closed.

The situation in Montreal had already improved significantly by Monday afternoon as winds shifted northward and away from the city, said Dr. Norman King, an epidemiologist with the public health department.

"The air quality was poor enough that even a healthy person could feel signs of irritation," said King. "The eyes are usually the first to get it, the respiratory system. But those are passing symptoms. They will disappear when the air quality improves. It is not something that requires medical attention."

Rain forecast for later this week is also expected to help wash away the smoke.

Wemotaci evacuation enters 5th day

Meanwhile on Monday, firefighters resumed their offensive against the fire that forced the evacuation of more than 1,300 people from the First Nations community of Wemotaci on Thursday.

Extremely thick smoke forced firefighters with the province's forest fire prevention agency (SOPFEU) to leave the community, 300 kilometres north of Trois-Rivières, on Sunday.

Visibility was about a kilometre in Quebec City on Sunday because of the smoke. ((CBC))
The fire was burning so hot that water dropped by water bombers was evaporating before it hit the ground.

So far, no homes have been lost to the fire, though some have been damaged by the intense heat. Several sheds have been destroyed.

Firefighters need the wind to die down and a day or two of solid rain to be able to get the fire under control, said SOPFEU spokesperson Mélanie Morin.

She said up to 10 millimetres of rain is expected to fall in the fire zone on Monday night and that will help.

"It will not put them out in any way, but … it will calm the fire activity and allow us to be more effective and more safe," said Morin.

About 1,200 firefighters, including some from Maine, New Brunswick, New Hampshire and Western Canada, are working to put out the fires.

Visibility was low in Montreal on Monday because of forest fire smoke blowing in from the north. ((CBC))

With files from The Canadian Press