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Five Quebec Cree communities face evacuations over wildfires


Five Cree communities are currently at various stages of evacuations as the forest fires continue across northern Quebec.

"The situation with the forest fires is quite intense," said Mandy Gull-Masty, Grand Chief of Cree Nation of Eeyou Istchee.

The recent rain has provided some relief for the Cree communities west of James Bay, in the northwest corner of the province, but not enough to call off all evacuation plans.

Last week, the Bill Diamond Highway in the region was closed due to the proximity of the fires and smoke in the territory, leaving some 2,000 people stranded.

As a result, Gull-Masty said officials have ordered the evacuation of 500 of the most vulnerable, including the elderly, babies and those with asthma and other breathing issues out of the area because of the smog.

They will temporarily relocate to other communities including Rouyn-Noranda, Val-d’Or, Quebec City and Gatineau. While they are thankful to these communities, Gull-Masty said it is still stressful.

"It's been really hard in the territory, you know, when you're doing evacuations solely by air families are split up," she said.

Nonetheless, Gull-Masty is still proud of how the communities have come together to take care of each other.

"From traditional knowledge from elders that I've spoken to from our forestry department, this is completely unprecedented," she said.

The last known large forest fire in the Cree community was between 2006 and 2007, in which one community was evacuated. This year, so far eight out of nine existing communities have been evacuated.

To date, the fires have caused the community to lose two million hectares of land, forcing people to lose their camps and access to the territory.

So far, no one has been killed or injured in the wildfires, and no homes have been touched by the flames. Still, the wildfire is devastating.

"For us, this is really a huge impact on Cree way of life because we're not only facing danger, insecurity of the existing fires. Once these fires go out, we have to deal with the aftermath, on our culture, on the wildlife, and, you know, on us having the ability to practice Cree way of life," she said.

Some animal welfare organizations are also worried about the evacuation plans for domestic animals. Some shelter workers on site are refusing to leave behind the remaining animals that were not allowed on the planes.

"The animals have all been gathered up and put in an arena so that they are all in one place. Therefore if we do get to the point where we're permitted to extract them, at least they're all in one place and we're not running around trying to find animals," said co-founder and president of Forever Home's Rescue, Sarah Saintsbury.

The Cree community and animal rescue organizations are hoping the situation improves and further plans will not be needed. Top Stories

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