Innu community in eastern Quebec starts evacuation ahead of wildfires

Quebec’s public safety minister requests

The chief of the Innu community of Maliotenam says roughly 1,500 people have been ordered to leave their homes because of fires burning in the area.

The community is located on the St. Lawrence River about 650 km northeast of Quebec City.

People have been advised to pack for a week.

They will be taken to another Innu community southwest of Baie-Comeau.

“The main shelter location for evacuated people is Pessamit,” said Maliotenam Chief Mike McKenzie in French. “The community generously accepted to support us during this difficult time and they’re already working to coordinate the lodging of Maliotenam residents.”

Quebec’s Public Security Minister Francois Bonnardel said 20 fires have been deemed priorities to protect homes and Hydro-Quebec infrastructure.

About 400 firefighters with the province’s forest fire prevention organization are deployed, and the province’s civil security department is fully mobilized. Bonnardel said federal Public Safety Minister Bill Blair is also ready to answer requests for help.

Bonnardel said about 10,000 people are affected by the evacuation order on Quebec’s north shore and 1,000 in Chapais.

Late Friday he issued a notice that said Quebec has requested assistance to help fight fires in the Côte-Nord region near the Innu community.

“I have just contacted the Federal Government to seek assistance from the Canadian Armed Forces with the wildfire situation,” he said.

Two fires are burning near Sept-Îles, which has a population of just over 25,000. One of those fires progressed quickly overnight, said Isabelle Gariepy, a spokeswoman for Quebec’s forest fire prevention organization, known as SOPFEU .

Sept-Îles Mayor Steeve Beaupré said certain sectors of his city about 890 km northeast of Montreal were ordered to evacuate by 4 pm Friday as a preventive measure, with an emergency shelter set up in nearby Port-Cartier.

Beaupre said the fire’s rapid growth wasn’t anticipated. “Last night, according to the latest information, it was not going in that direction, but the fire has progressed a lot,” Beaupré said in justifying the evacuation order. “There could be a junction between the two fires that are currently active.”

On Wednesday, another out-of-control forest fire in northern Quebec forced the evacuation of about 500 homes in Chapais, east of Chibougamau.

Chapais Mayor Isabelle Lessard said Friday would be decisive in determining whether residents could return home, and she warned that even without visible signs of fire, there can still be danger.

“It remains an invisible enemy,” Lessard told a briefing on Friday. “We don’t currently see the fire from the city, we don’t see any smoke either, but … it’s still there, it’s still big, it’s still out of control.”

According to SOPFEU, there were 122 active fires in the province as of Friday afternoon, a figure that has been continuously in flux due to the hot, dry temperatures enveloping the province.

The province’s Natural Resources and Public Security departments issued a notice Thursday asking people to avoid traveling in forests as much as possible due to the high fire risk. Earlier this week, authorities issued a ban on fires in or near forests across the province.

Premier François Legault on Friday urged people to follow the advice of authorities. “I’m asking all Quebecers not to go into forests, and if you’re asked to evacuate to follow that guidance,” he told reporters.

With files from the Canadian Press

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