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Displaced Quebec residents can return to Port-Cartier as forest fires continue to burn

A helicopter flies past a plume of smoke near Lebel-sur-Quévillon on Wednesday, July 5, 2023. The 1,000 or so Port-Cartier residents who were evacuated on Thursday evening due to the forest fires can now return to their homes. Similar heavy helicopters have been deployed in the area. (Adrian Wyld, The Canadian Press) A helicopter flies past a plume of smoke near Lebel-sur-Quévillon on Wednesday, July 5, 2023. The 1,000 or so Port-Cartier residents who were evacuated on Thursday evening due to the forest fires can now return to their homes. Similar heavy helicopters have been deployed in the area. (Adrian Wyld, The Canadian Press)
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Around 1,000 Port-Cartier residents who were evacuated on Thursday evening due to the forest fires can now return to their homes, although two forest fires are still out of control in the area, and a state of emergency remains in force.

A forest fire near Port-Cartier on the North Shore led to the evacuation of homes north of Route 138 on Thursday. On Monday afternoon, city authorities authorized the return of residents, but warned that the situation could change rapidly.

"The situation is far from resolved," stressed Port-Cartier Mayor Alain Thibault, before announcing the lifting of the evacuation order.

"Caution remains the order of the day", he said, adding that the Sûreté du Québec (SQ) will be on hand to help residents return home safely.

Quebec forest fire protection agency (SOPFEU) communication officer Melanie Morin said that two fires were still out of control in the region, and that with the hot, dry weather, they would be active during the day.

The first fire, located west and east of Walker Lake, is still considered out of control and measures approximately 1165 hectares. Morin reported that 28 forest firefighters were on the ground Monday in the southern portion of the fire, in addition to four air tankers.

"It's not impossible to see smoke plumes and smell smoke in populated areas," she said.

The situation is similar for the second fire, in the Lac Morin area.

This one, about 12 km north of Port-Cartier, covers some 919 hectares and is also out of control.

Around 24 forest firefighters are working on it, in addition to two heavy helicopters that are "continuously spraying", said Morin.

The next rainfall is not expected until Wednesday.

"On Monday morning, dense smoke over the territory made fire mapping difficult for SOPFEU crews. So we shouldn't be surprised to see the number of hectares affected by the fires climb in the next few days," said Morin.

Port-Cartier general manager Nicolas Mayrand urged residents to conserve drinking water. He reported that air quality was stable for the time being.

Smoke from the forest fires is no longer causing poor air quality in Port-Cartier and Sept-Îles, Environment Canada said on Monday morning, although it warned that a change in wind direction could lead to a deterioration in air quality over the next few hours.

The City of Port-Cartier has also indicated that air quality will once again be an issue to monitor over the course of the day.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published in French on June 24, 2024. 

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