7th June 2023 – (New York) Northern Quebec’s largest town was evacuated while another threatened by wildfires lifted an evacuation order on June 6, as firefighters battled out-of-control blazes in remote communities in the northern and northwestern parts of the province. The intense Canadian wildfires are causing air pollution as far away as New York City and New England, turning the air acrid and the sky yellowish gray. Vulnerable populations have been advised to stay indoors.
According to Quebec’s forest fire prevention agency, over 150 forest fires were burning in the province on June 6, including more than 110 considered out of control. The effects of the hundreds of wildfires burning in Quebec could be felt as far away as New York City and New England, blotting out skylines and irritating throats.
Late on June 6, authorities issued an evacuation order for Chibougamau, Quebec, a town of about 7,500 in the remote region of the province. Authorities said the evacuation was underway and promised to provide more details on 7th June.
“We’re following all of this from hour to hour, obviously,” Premier Francois Legault told reporters in Sept-Iles, Quebec. “If we look at the situation in Quebec as a whole, there are several places where it is still worrying.”
Legault said that the Abitibi-Temiscamingue region in northwestern Quebec is an area of particular concern, with the communities of Normetal and Lebel-sur-Quevillon under threat. The mayor of Lebel-sur-Quevillon, where about 2,100 people were forced from their homes over the weekend, said that the fire is about 10km outside of town, but its advance has been slower than expected.
Other northern communities at risk include Chibougamau and the Cree village of Chisasibi on the eastern shore of James Bay. Firefighting resources have also been dispatched to Hydro-Quebec’s Micoua substation near Baie-Comeau, Legault said.
On Monday, Legault said that authorities had no choice but to leave the hamlet of Clova to burn, drawing the ire of local residents. Legault said on June 6 that he had simply repeated what fire prevention officials told him: The fire around the tiny community about 325km northwest of Montreal was too intense to send water bombers. That remained true on June 7, he said, but he noted that no homes had burned.
Quebec Natural Resources Minister Maite Blanchette Vezina told reporters in Quebec City that evacuees across the province numbered just over 8,300, down from 10,000 to start the week, but the Abitibi region remains a concern.
“We are not expecting rain in the short term, which is what makes it more difficult to fight fires,” Blanchette Vezina said.
The current situation highlights the need for better forest management, fire prevention, and awareness of the dangers posed by wildfires. The Canadian government should invest in better firefighting equipment, resources, and training to better manage these incidents and protect communities at risk.