Cree nations in northern Quebec evacuate ahead of wildfires

More evacuations in Quebec as record breaking fires continue to burn.

Officials in Quebec say that the northern Cree community of Mistissini, located 550 km north of Montreal, will likely be evacuated later on Wednesday adding another 4,000 people to the evacuee list as the province deals with an unprecedented number of wildfires.

Evacuation orders were issued Tuesday night for the Cree community of Ouje-Bougoumou and nearby town of Chibougamau said Premier Francois Legault.

The northern town of Chapais, Que., risked being evacuated again, and some parts of Senneterre, Que., were also threatened by the flames.

Quebec’s wildfire season is the worst on record, officials said Wednesday, as the number of evacuees was expected to rise to more than 15,000 by the end of the day.

About 11,400 people have already been forced from their homes because of persistent and unpredictable wildfires, Legault told reporters in Quebec City. The most troublesome areas, he said, were in northern Quebec and in the western Abitibi region, where significant rainfall wasn’t expected until Monday. Residents shouldn’t expect to be able to return home before the middle of next week, Legault said.

“I want us all to be realistic so that we don’t see things through rose-coloured glasses,” the premier said. “For the moment, we do not expect rain for the next few days.”

Chibougamau Mayor Manon Cyr asked the town’s roughly 7,500 residents to gather in Roberval, Que., about 250 km away, if they didn’t have friends of family elsewhere who could take them in.

In Ouje-Bougoumou, about 800 people were ordered to leave and advised that shelter would be provided nearly 400 km to the southeast, in Chicoutimi, Que.

Quebec’s forest fire prevention agency said Wednesday more than 150 forest fires were burning and slightly under 100 of them were considered out of control. More than 457,000 hectares have burned so far this season, the most since the province started keeping records.

“In the history of (the agency) – nearly 50 years – we’ve surpassed the worst year on record,” Natural Resources Minister Maite Blanchette-Vezina said. “It’s a situation that’s unprecedented.”

There were about 520 fire personnel on Wednesday fighting fires in the province, helped by about 150 members of the Canadian Armed Forces, Legault said. They could cover about 40 fires at a time, he added.

Legault said he hoped to have 1,200 firefighters on the ground in the coming weeks, drawing from firefighters in New Brunswick and France in the coming days. He said the province was negotiating with the United States, Portugal, Spain and Mexico for additional resources.

The premier said the wildfires on the province’s north shore were under control, one day after residents of Sept-Iles, Que., were allowed to return home. As well, Legault said a Hydro-Quebec substation near Baie-Comeau, Que., was no longer under threat from fires.

Across the country cities and towns are seeing and feeling the effects of the fires. In Ottawa and Toronto, smoke forced health officials to declare air quality warnings.

“We’re seeing vulnerable people at risk, outdoor events canceled, kids having to be kept inside at recess,” said Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in Ottawa on Wednesday.

According to Indigenous Services Minister Patty Hajdu, 13 First Nations have been evacuated and 6,500 people remain displaced.

“People are working incredibly hard to make sure that people are moved to safety not just from the effects of the fire itself but certainly the incredible health risk from being exposed to the degree of smoke that folks are facing in communities,” said Hajdu.

“Some communities are evacuating as a result of the incredible health risks to people who are already vulnerable.”

The Algonquins of Barriere Lake is one of the 13 communities that had to flee the fires.

Chief Casey Ratt said about 100 people in the community located 270 km north of Ottawa left because of poor air quality.

“The air quality in our community is very bad at the moment. We evacuated members on Sunday and Monday to the nearby town of Maniwaki (and) Gatineau,” said Ratt. “So we are waiting on some type of break in the air quality so we can start moving our community back home.”

As of Wednesday, the government said that 17 First Nations are affected by the fires.

With files from the Canadian Press

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