More than 160 fires burning across the province, most are out of control
As firefighters rushed to protect communities under threat, more than 160 forest fires continued to burn in Quebec, the vast majority of them out of control, coating much of the province in thick smoke and haze.
The fires prompted air quality warnings across Quebec on Monday morning, including in Montreal, where Environment Canada urged residents to take precautions against smog.
In Sept-Îles, the North Shore town whose outskirts are threatened by fire, Environment Canada issued a severe special air quality statement, urging residents to wear respirators if they had to venture outside and to use air filters to recirculate and clean indoor air.
The special air quality statement extended over much of the province, stretching from the north shore to James Bay and including part of the Outaouais.
Steeve Beaupré, the mayor of Sept-Îles, said residents there woke up to a thick cloud of smoke on Monday morning.
He urged people to keep their doors and windows closed and to avoid physical activity outdoors.
Beaupré accompanied firefighters on a flyover to observe the fires near the town on Sunday. He said he witnessed the proximity of the flames to residential areas and how unpredictable they were.
One of the major fires near Sept-Îles had grown since then but was being pushed northward, away from the town, by wind.
Fortunately, he said, the weather forecast seemed to offer some relief.
"The weather seems to be turning in our favour with the promise of significant precipitation this week," he said.
Yan Boulanger, a research scientist with Natural Resources Canada said that the ground covered by the fires in Quebec's commercial forests in the past four days is massive and estimates that it's equal to what was covered in the past 10 years combined.
"It's a really exceptional situation," he said. "To have that number of fires means we had very dry, very warm conditions in the last few days and we also had a thunderstorm on Thursday that ignited those fires."
The number of fires has overwhelmed the capacity of the province's forest fire fighting agency, SOPFEU.
The agency is prioritizing fighting fires that pose an urgent risk to human life or critical infrastructure.
Firefighters are battling 35 fires, but Mélanie Morin, a spokesperson for SOPFEU, said reinforcements from the Canadian military were beginning to lend a hand.
"More manpower means more fires that we can intervene on," she said.
"Daily, our priorities change depending on wind shifts. One day a fire could be going away from a community whereas the next day a wind shift could change that."
Morin hoped the rain and colder weather forecast for later this week would help firefighters gain the upper hand on some blazes.
"Cooler temperatures, lighter winds are always a very welcome addition to the mix," she said.
Premier François Legault is scheduled to provide an update on the forest fires later on Monday.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Matthew Lapierre is a digital journalist at CBC Montreal. He previously worked for the Montreal Gazette and the Globe and Mail. You can reach him at email@example.com.
With files from CBC Daybreak
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