Montreal

Forest fires continue to ravage Quebec as authorities hope for rain

Though several forests are burning in Quebec, the fire north of Lac Saint-Jean is the province’s largest at the moment. It's estimated to cover more than 72,000 hectares, which is equivalent to one-and-a half-times the size of the island of Montreal. 

Fire north of Lac Saint-Jean is considered out of control, burning over 72,000 hectares

Water bomber planes have been deployed to fight fires. The fire burning north of Lac Saint-Jean is the largest in the province, but a fire in Rivière-Ouelle is considered major as well. (Radio-Canada)

Alain Renaud is one of about 60 cottage owners who lost everything this weekend to one of several forest fires raging across Quebec. 

"We could hear explosions, burning cottages, propane and all that," he said, recalling his experience fleeing the Chute-des-Passes area on Friday — leaving behind a second home he had been building for some two decades north of Lac Saint-Jean.

Renaud is not alone. 

Residents have been ordered to clear out of Chute-des-Passes and entry is prohibited as the forest fire there is "out of control," Public Security Minister Geneviève Guilbault said Monday.

"The heat wave and the drought are unfortunately the perfect recipe for the fires," she said.

Though several forests are burning in Quebec, the fire north of Lac Saint-Jean is the province's largest forest fire at the moment. It's estimated to cover more than 72,000 hectares, which is about one-and-a-half times the size of the island of Montreal. 

"Right now, because of the intensity of the fire, there are certain actions we can't do to stop its progression," said Mélanie Morin, a spokesperson for Quebec's forest fire prevention agency (SOPFEU).

That's because it is impossible to access certain areas on the ground to assess the damage and work to fight the fires directly, she said.

"What we can do, though, is prioritize human life. We can also protect strategic infrastructure," said Morin.

Guilbault said authorities believe the fire was likely caused by a campfire that wasn't extinguished properly.

Hot, dry weather leads to extreme risk of fire

Most of Quebec is considered at extreme risk during a heat wave that has left grass, trees and undergrowth quite dry. 

Hundreds of firefighters and several specialized aircraft have been called in from provinces including Manitoba and Ontario to fight Quebec's rash of forest fires. Alberta is also sending crews to help fight the fire in the Chute-des-Passes area.

The response includes:

  • About 250 forest firefighters, 40 municipal firefighters and 400 others who are assisting.
  • 17 water bomber airplanes and 40 helicopters.

So far this year,  there have been 461 forest fires in Quebec — twice the average of the past decade.

Provincial police, municipal authorities and the Canadian Red Cross have been involved in getting people to safety where necessary, Guibault said.

"This is why we are crossing our fingers and hoping rain will come soon," she said.

Rain is expected overnight Tuesday, she said.

Public Security Minister Geneviève Guilbault begs people to adhere to the campfire ban even though vacation season is underway and St-Jean-Baptiste Day is on Wednesday. (Radio-Canada)

SOPFEU has issued a ban on open fires for much of the province and fireworks are strongly discouraged if not banned by municipalities.

Guilbault said it is important people stay out of closed areas and adhere to the open-fire ban even though it's vacation time.

"We love our beautiful nature in Quebec and we want to keep it that way," she said.

"The right thing to do is avoid all fires everywhere in the province of Quebec."

Guilbault said it is important people also follow municipal rules when it comes to water consumption, due to the high temperatures and limited supply.

With files from Radio-Canada and CBC's Josh Grant

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