Forest fire near Lac Saint-Jean likely started by campfire, minister says

A massive forest fire north of Lac Saint-Jean was likely started by a campfire Quebec's minister of forests, wildlife and parks. More than 200 firefighters will be coming in from Ontario and Manitoba in addition to the 75 firefighters already working on the scene. 

200 firefighters from outside the province are en route to help 75 already on the scene

Quebec's fire prevention agency is hoping the region's humidity levels will be on their side Monday, as they continue to try controlling the fire. (SOPFEU)

A forest fire raging through the Chute-des-Passes area north of Lac Saint-Jean was likely started by a campfire at a campsite along the water, Quebec's minister of forests, wildlife and parks said Sunday afternoon. 

"Saint-Jean is coming," said Pierre Dufour, referring to Quebec's Fête Nationale holiday, which is on Wednesday. "A fire can cause enormous damage, as we're seeing now."

With a heat warning in effect for most of southern Quebec, Quebec's forest fire prevention agency (SOPFEU) has issued a ban on open fires for much of the province. 

The fire, which had spread over 58,000 hectares by Saturday night, had expanded to over 62,000 hectares by Sunday morning, SOPFEU said. 

Éric Rousseau, SOPFEU's director general, says the fire is not completely under control, but is spreading less quickly than last week.

"The whole perimeter is considered out of control," Rousseau said. 

He said a combination of natural factors, such as rain, humidity and lower temperatures, and on-the-ground work by firefighters will quell the blaze. 

According to SOPFEU spokesperson Josée Poitras, the hot and dry conditions over the weekend have made it too dangerous for crews to work on the ground and have forced them to rely on water bombing instead. 

Poitras said the agency is hoping for enough rain and better humidity and temperature conditions so they can deploy more than 200 firefighters to the area Monday.

The firefighters will be coming in from Ontario and Manitoba  in addition to the 75 firefighters already working on the scene.

An abnormally destructive season

So far, this year is proving to be particularly destructive.

According to the SOPFEU's website, on average, Quebec usually sees 26,016 hectares burned by this time of year.

This year, a total of 63,535 hectares have burned. 

A screen capture from the SOPFEU website shows the perimeter of the Chute-des-Passes fire. (SOPFEU)

On Saturday, authorities feared the fire could damage the nearby Peribonka Hydro-Québec station, which serves nearly 85,000 customers across the province. 

Though the fire did come within one kilometre of the plant, SOPFEU crews managed to save it by removing nearby vegetation. 

A spokesperson for Hydro-Québec said these measures seem to be working so far. 

The fire started in Chute-des-Passes on Tuesday. Wind directions and the hot and dry temperatures have made it a challenge to put out. 

The province evacuated the area Friday afternoon. It has also restricted access to the forest and set up road blocks in the region. 

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

There are 20 active forest and brush fires burning across the province. The Chute-des-Passes blaze is currently the largest. 

With files from Radio-Canada


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