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Maximum-security prison in Quebec evacuated due to forest fires

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More than 200 inmates were relocated after a maximum-security prison on Quebec's north shore was evacuated due to the threat of raging forest fires in the region.

On Friday, the mayor of Port-Cartier, Que., Alain Thibault, declared a state of emergency for five days since the wildfire situation was "out of control and quite close to the city's infrastructure."

Parts of the city, roughly 500 kilometres northeast of Quebec City, were ordered to evacuate, forcing approximately 1,000 residents to leave their homes.

Correctional Service Canada confirmed on Sunday that the evacuation order affected the Port-Cartier Institution and that all 225 inmates were transferred "to other secure federal correctional facilities."

The facility has housed some of the country's most dangerous criminals, including murderers Paul Bernardo and Luka Magnotta.

The prison made headlines in May after serial killer Robert Pickton was attacked by a fellow inmate and died of his injuries 10 days later.

CSC said it has taken steps to secure the transfer of the inmates during this weekend's evacuation.

"To carry out the evacuation, we put measures in place, together with our partners, to maintain the safety and security of our staff, the public, and the offenders in our care and custody," the federal agency said in a news release.

Victims' families were also notified about the evacuation and the facility has been closed for visits.

Port-Cartier Institution. (Source: Correctional Service Canada)

CSC said it would continue to monitor the situation before a decision is made to reopen the facility, adding that "the safety of our staff, inmates and the public will continue to remain our top priority."

"I would like to extend my gratitude to all of our staff and partners who worked tirelessly to plan and successfully execute this complex operation in an evolving wildfire situation. I appreciate the efforts of so many who pulled together to make this happen, while keeping safety and security top of mind," said CSC Commissioner Anne Kelly. 

Evacuation order still in effect

Port-Cartier officials met with Quebec's forest fire prevention agency, the Société de protection des forêts contre le feu (SOPFEU), on Sunday to assess the situation. Despite the nearby fires heading north of the city, Mayor Thibault said the evacuation order will remain in effect.

An aerial view of a wildfire in Port-Cartier, Que., on Saturday, June 22, 2024. (Source: Luc Deschenes)

A new concern, however, is the air quality in the region, which has worsened due to smoke from the forest fires drifting to populated areas. Public health is recommending people close their windows and limit their physical activity outdoors.

SOPFEU spokesperson Mélanie Morin said fire officials are monitoring two wildfires of concern north of Port-Cartier that are listed as "out of control." Fire 211 was ignited by a lightning strike on June 19 and is about 1,110 hectares, Morin said.

Fire 221, located about 12 kilometres north of the city, was also sparked by a lightning strike on June 21 and is about 916 hectares.

"In total, tonight, there will be 172 forest firefighters, auxiliary fighters, managers and support staff assigned to [the wildfires]," Morin said.

A fire ban is in effect in the region, even during the St-Jean Baptiste festivities taking place on Monday. The ban also prohibits fireworks.

Quebec offering financial aid to evacuees

The provincial government is again offering financial aid to residents forced to leave their homes due to wildfires. Premier François Legault said Sunday that Quebec will provide $1,500 to each household that was evacuated. Residents can file a claim by visiting Quebec.ca.

Quebec provincial police said they are on site to ensure protect public safety during the state of emergency, including making sure no crimes are committed at the homes that were abandoned.

With files from The Canadian Press

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