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Around 80 forest fires are burning in Quebec, eight are out of control

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People in Chapais, in Northern Quebec, must be patient as SOPFEU works to protect the town with limited manpower.

Across the province, around 80 forest fires burned Thursday evening, including eight that were "out of control," according to the fire prevention agency known as SOPFEU.

At a press briefing Thursday evening, Chapais Mayor Isabelle Lessard said the evacuation order is not being lifted "given that the fire is still uncontrolled and still threatening."

 Earlier, it was reported that some 500 homes had been evacuated, some voluntarily and others compulsory, as the fire burned as close as 50 metres from some homes in the town.

No material damage has been reported, but water released by air tankers may have affected some homes.

Alongside the mayor at the press briefing, SOPFEU spokesman Remi Barriault explained that ground crews were concentrating on the northern portion of the main blaze as "it is the one that threatens the city the most."

"Right now, the fire is still considered out of control, obviously, because the fire's capacity is much greater than our response capacity," he said, indicating that some twenty people were involved.

"The plan is to bring in more and more resources to help us get a grip on the situation. It's true that in Quebec right now, there are a lot of active fires. That changes the situation a little when it comes to the availability of resources," he added.

The SOPFEU spokesperson pointed to "constant winds for the next two days, which is favourable to the Town of Chapais' protection plans," he said. "We're playing with luck here."

Chapais authorities are due to provide an update at 8 a.m. Friday.

SUSPICIOUS CAUSE?

The young mayor, elected at the age of 21 in 2021, said that Quebec provincial police (SQ) had dispatched reinforcements from Roberval, Saint-Felicien and Dolbeau to assist emergency services with the population and to conduct its investigation into the causes of the fires.

Jean Raphaël Drolet, information officer with the SQ, indicated there was "a lot of information on social media" but that it was important not to "move faster than the investigation itself."

In response to a question about the possibility of foul play, Drolet said that, for the moment, "nothing has been ruled out" and that "all hypotheses" are being analyzed.

Some evidence of human activity has been found near one of the forest fires, but it's "too early to determine whether it's related to this blaze," said Drolet.

There are four active forest fires in the area. The largest blaze covered just under 1,400 hectares at midday Thursday.

In Quebec City, Public Security Minister Francois Bonnardel said he was concerned, and not just about the situation in Chapais: "It's worrying when you see these fires all over the territory,' he said.

"We're on the lookout, and we're even hoping for a little rain," he added.

A fire covering more than 700 hectares north of Sept-Iles on the North Shore was also out of control but had not led to any evacuations during the day. Air tankers fought a fierce battle with the ravaging elements.

In James Bay, a fire covering more than 1,300 hectares was also out of control.

AVOID FOREST TRAVEL

On Thursday morning, the Quebec government issued a notice concerning the risk of forest fires and asked for the entire population's cooperation.

The ministers of natural resources and forests and the minister of public security are asking Quebecers to avoid or restrict travel in the forest over the next few days.

The recommendation, made in conjunction with SOPFEU, applies to all regions of Quebec.

BAN ON OPEN FIRES

For several days now, open fires have been prohibited in or near forests throughout Quebec.

High, dry temperatures and low precipitation levels across the province are increasing the flammability index.

SOPFEU adds that in spring, there is a lot of dead vegetation on the ground, which constitutes a highly flammable fuel, as it dries out very quickly with a few hours of sunshine and a little wind.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published in French on June 1, 2023.  

 

This report by The Canadian Press was first published on May 31, 2023.

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