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Quebec wildfires: Northern city and Cree community ordered to evacuate

June 23, 2023  By Jacob Serebrin, The Canadian Press

MONTREAL — A northern Quebec city and a Cree community have ordered to residents to leave their homes as the areas face the threat of forest fires.

The Cree community of Mistissini says residents need to evacuate the area by Friday, as heavy smoke is expected to make driving difficult by Sunday.

The community, which has a population of about 4,000, is advising residents to also bring their pets, which are to be cared for in the town of Alma about 400 kilometres southeast.

Earlier in the day, residents of Lebel-sur-Quevillon were ordered to evacuate the city for the second time in less than three weeks.


Mayor Guy Lafreniere says one of two routes connecting the community to the rest of the province has been blocked by fire.

Hot, dry weather conditions are forecasted to continue through the weekend.

Lafreniere said Thursday that everyone had to leave before 6:30 p.m., and implored people ready to leave immediately to do so, to avoid traffic congestion on the evacuation route.

Only firefighters and people providing essential services to those crews would be allowed to stay, he said.

Residents of the city of about 2,000 people had been forced from their homes for two weeks because of fires and had only been allowed to return Sunday.

Evacuees were being sent to the city of Val-d’Or, Que., about 155 kilometres to the southwest.

Earlier in the day, Lafreniere said the fire near Lebel-sur-Quevillon had crossed a river that officials had hoped would act as a natural fire break.

In Mistissini, people were told to leave their home with an emergency kit and head to a local sports complex to check in with officials by 8 a.m. Friday.

“A gathering point will be provided at check-in,” the Cree Nation of Mistissini said on its Facebook page Thursday.

In Lebel-sur-Quevillon, Jean-Patrick Constantin moved to the city eight months ago from the African island nation of Mauritius to work at a softwood lumber mill.

Constantin said his family joined him in Canada on June 2, but instead of meeting him at his home, they were forced to greet him at an evacuation centre in the nearby city of Senneterre.

The heavy smoke around the region has forced residents to keep their windows closed and has been particularly hard on his two-year-old, the youngest of his three kids.

“He can’t go outside, he’s not able to breathe,” he said.

Adding to the challenge, Constantin said, is that the mill where he works has closed and doesn’t plan to reopen until it rains.

Katia Petit, a senior Quebec civil security official, said earlier Thursday that Lebel-sur-Quevillon, along with other parts of Quebec’s north and northwest affected by the fires, has received little rain this month.

“We’re talking about a really serious drought,” Petit told reporters in Quebec City, adding that Lebel-sur-Quevillon normally receives around 95 millimetres of rain in June but has received less than eight millimetres this year.

The last significant rain in the area came in early May, said Jean-Philippe Begin, a meteorologist at Environment Canada.

“Since May 5, there’s been no significant precipitation in the north and the west of Quebec,” he said in an interview Thursday.

The hot, dry weather conditions were complicating firefighting efforts, said Julie Coupal, assistant general manager of the province’s wildfire prevention agency, known as SOPFEU. The weather was making it harder to maintain control of fires that had been contained, she told reporters Thursday in Quebec City.

Since the start of the week, four fires that had been contained were out of control again, she added.

“Of course, there’s the risk of new fires breaking out, which is also serious,” she said. “The large amount of smoke can make tanker plane operations difficult, that was the case for the last two days.”

Coupal said fire officials have asked for more resources from the Canadian Interagency Forest Fire Centre, which co-ordinates mutual aid between provincial and territorial wildland fire agencies, adding that firefighters who came from Spain and Portugal to help the province were scheduled to return home next week.

In Ottawa, Emergency Preparedness Minister Bill Blair said Thursday that the federal government extended the deployment of Canadian Armed Forces members helping to fight the wildfires in Quebec.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 22, 2023.

With files from Marie-Eve Martel in Montreal.

News from © Canadian Press Enterprises Inc., 2021


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