Quebec firefighters say they are unable to contain all of the province’s 143 burning fires. It says it can only attack between 20 and 30 fires at a time until reinforcements arrive.
“We are in charge of 35 fires today, compared to 21 yesterday. We have chosen specific fires to protect our critical infrastructure, but above all to protect our population,” Public Security Minister François Bonnardel said at a press conference Sunday.
“All our resources are concentrated on these fires.”
Forces and firefighters from outside the province arrived on Saturday to assist local firefighters. There are about 100 soldiers on the ground and 550 more firefighters on the way.
The back-up should enable the provincial fire authority, the Société de protection des forêts contre le feu (SOPFEU), to change its strategy – currently focused on protecting cities and infrastructure – to go on the offensive and put out the fires for good.
Forest access bans
Quebec’s Ministry of Forestry banned access to more forests and closed roads as of 8 a.m. Sunday as fires continue to burn across the province.
Access to forests in northern Quebec, Côte-Nord, Saguenay-Lac-Saint-Jean, Abitibi-Témiscamingue, Mauricie, Outaouais, Lanaudière and the Laurentians is restricted. A list of closed parks and forests is available at the government website.
The ministry says it is necessary to restrict access to forests to reduce the risk of new fires and to facilitate firefighting.
The risk of new wildfires is also prompting the agency that manages Quebec’s provincial park network, the Société des établissements de plein air du Québec (SEPAQ), to ban or limit access to 13 of its parks. They include the nature reserves of La Vérendrye and Laurentides, and a full list of closed parks is available.
State of emergency
Val d’Or and a nearby town in Abitibi-Ouest are the last municipalities to evacuate because of the forest fires. Val d’Or has declared a state of emergency.
The city has issued an evacuation order for people living in the Louvicourt, Lac Wyeth, Lac Guéguen, Lac Matchi-Manitou and Lac Villebon sectors, “as two out-of-control fires are raging on the east side of the Louvicourt sector and due to the poor air quality,” said a press release.
Evacuees can go to the Fournier Multisport Center, which also hosts people from the Anishinaabe Nation of Lac Simon and the Algonquin community of Kiticisakik who were forced to leave their homes on Saturday.
Those in the urban core of Val d’Or are not affected by the evacuation notice, as fires do not threaten the area, although air quality is still considered very poor and residents are encouraged to stay indoors.
The town of Normétal in Abitibi-Ouest is also under an evacuation order. Officials redirected the 754 residents south of the city to Dupuy or La Sarre.
In all, about 14,000 people have been forced from their homes in communities near wildfires, including Sept-Îles on Quebec’s northern coast, the neighboring Innu community of Mani-Utenam and Lebel-sur-Quévillon in northern Quebec.
The town of Sept-Îles has extended the local state of emergency for five days, but no new evacuations will take place on Sunday.
The evacuation notices for the Moisie, Les Plages and Lac Daigle sectors will be maintained for at least another 24 hours.
Mayor of Sept-Îles Steeve Beaupré says he does not want people to return to their homes and be evacuated again. But he is optimistic about the evolution of fires near the Nipissis River as they slow down.
Although temperatures are cooler, a change in wind and less rain than expected in the forecast early in the week is cause for concern, he said.
Hospital admissions, air evacuations
Manon Asselin, the general manager of the CISSS Côte-Nord, said 47 people required acute care and were airlifted to hospitals in Montreal and Quebec City.
No more air evacuations are planned and authorities say they are preparing to evacuate patients by road if necessary.