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Forest fires force thousands out of their homes in Quebec’s North Shore

With the number of out-of-control forest fires across Quebec having quickly multiplied, the city of Sept-Îles on the province's North Shore has declared a local state of emergency and has put in place a mandatory evacuation order for several sections of the city.

Province's forest fire agency says at least 80 fires out of control

Fire burns through trees.

With the number of out-of-control forest fires across Quebec having quickly multiplied, the city of Sept-Îles on the province's North Shore has declared a local state of emergency and has put in place a mandatory evacuation order for several neighbourhoods.

The evacuation order affects about 5,000 residents in the region. The order is in effect for the Lac Daigle and Maliotenam sections as well as areas east of downtown including Les Plages and Moisie. Residents must leave their homes by 4 p.m.

All non-urgent activities have been suspended at Sept-Îles hospital, the regional health centre that also serves the Minganie and the Lower North Shore.

Steeve Beaupré, mayor of Sept-Îles, said the fire in the southern area spread of the city south overnight and is progressing quickly.

"We do not want people to put themselves in danger," said Beaupré during a news conference on Friday. "We want to preserve our population."

118 fires, 11,000 hectares affected

Across Quebec, the situation is quickly becoming more challenging for firefighters.

The province's fire prevention agency, the Société de protection des forêts contre le feu (SOPFEU), is warning Quebecers that more fires are out of control than the agency can handle.

On Friday morning, there were 118 fires with over 11,000 hectares affected. At least 80 of them are now considered out of control, according to SOPFEU. Earlier in the day, the agency had said there were 10 out-of-control fires.

SOPFEU says some of the new fires were caused by lightning and the agency will not have enough resources to fight them all. It is giving priority to fires surrounding residences or very important infrastructure.SOPFEU spokesperson, Stéphane Caron, told Radio-Canada's Tout un matin they only have the capacity to fight 30 fires at a time.

"Our priority is the protection of communities people live in and strategic, essential infrastructure," said Caron.

The situation in the town of Chapais in northern Quebec — where more than 500 homes were evacuated this week — has improved but protecting Hydro-Québec power lines is also a top priority, he said.

Caron said SOPFEU has asked for help, but with so many crews battling fires in Eastern and Western Canada, it might have to call on foreign firefighting teams.

The chief of Uashat Mak Mani-utenam, Mike Pelash Mckenzie, held a news conference Friday morning to declare a local state of emergency in his community and announce, alongside areas of neighbouring Sept-Îles, they are evacuating the community of 1,500 people before 7 p.m.

He says residents will have access to a bus for transportation and can meet at the parking lot of the church.

"The shelter that is available for those evacuated is in Pessamit. The community generously agreed to support us in this difficult time," said Mckenzie.

WATCH | Fires burn across Quebec, rain not expected for days:

Quebec forest fires update

60 minutes ago

Duration 1:00

As of Friday morning, 80 fires were burning out of control, forcing thousands from their homes.

Limited spots in temporary shelter

Beaupré said there is support for residents relocating, but there are only 600 to 700 spots in the temporary shelter the city is setting up and only a handful of hotel rooms available locally. He says he is in communication with other cities to see if they can offer some temporary housing support.

Isabelle Gariépy, who spoke on behalf of the fire protection agency during Friday's news conference, says there is a team working strategically to calm the fire and prevent others.

"We have repeated this over the past week. This fire is extreme. The flammability index is super high. There are moments when the fire exceeds our capacity to work. And that's why we are using all the tactics we can," said Gariépy.

Denis Clements, Sept-Îles's director of community services, says the city is focused on minimizing the impact on residents.

"This kind of situation is not very frequent," said Clements.

"We are going step by step. We have a plan but we have to improvise to make sure the most people in Sept-Îles are in security."

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Rachel Watts

CBC journalist

Rachel Watts is a journalist with CBC News in Quebec City. Originally from Montreal, she enjoys covering stories in the province of Quebec. You can reach her at rachel.watts@cbc.ca.

With files from Radio-Canada

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Credit belongs to : www.cbc.ca

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