Quebec wildfires: Cree community orders evacuation of 4K due to heavy smoke

Almost 4,000 people fleeing nearby wildlife.


Since the beginning of June, firefighters have been battling a record number of wildfires including this one outside Algonquins of Barriere Lake. Photo courtesy: Charlie Papatie

A Cree community in northern Quebec was being evacuated Friday because of heavy smoke from a nearby forest fire.

The wildfire in Mistissini, the second largest Cree community in the province, is located about 10 km from the road to southern Quebec and about 30 kilometres from the town itself.

“We have time to evacuate,” said Chief Michael Petawabno in a video posted on the Cree Nation of Mistissini’s Facebook page, adding that he wanted to ensure the evacuation wasn’t rushed.

He said the community’s almost 4,000 residents should check in at a local sports complex and that transport would be provided for those who don’t have vehicles.

Evacuees were being sent to Chicoutimi, Que., around 446 kilometres to the southeast.

Mistissini was the second Quebec community to order an evacuation within the past 24 hours.

The northern Quebec city of Lebel-sur-Quevillon ordered residents to leave by Thursday evening, after a fire cut off one of the two provincial highways connecting the city to the rest of the province. Mayor Guy Lafreniere said a second fire, further north, is expected to reach that road over the weekend.

“We’re waiting and hoping with all our hearts for rain next Tuesday,” he said in a video message.

The evacuation went well Thursday, Lafreniere said, adding that the last bus was scheduled to leave the community at noon Friday for the few people who had not already left.

It was the second time in less than three weeks that the city had ordered an evacuation due to the fires. Residents had been allowed to return on Sunday after a 17-day evacuation earlier this month, but most of the community’s approximately 2,000 residents didn’t return or left earlier in the week.

Quebec’s wildfire prevention agency said Friday it has expanded a ban on outdoor fires to include the Gaspe Peninsula, most of the neighbouring Bas-St-Laurent region and Anticosti Island.

The open fire ban had previously only applied north of the St. Lawrence River, excluding Montreal Island and the neighbouring city of Laval.

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The Climate Crisis in Canada 

Indigenous communities to be hit with ‘ecological grief, loss of land and traditional knowledge’ because of climate crisis 

Since the beginning of June, a number of jurisdictions in Canada have experienced hundreds of wildfires that are being spurred on by dry, hot weather, according to Environment and Climate Change Canada.

The department held a news conference on June 20 and said that people in Canada should expect higher-than-normal temperatures across the country until the end of August because of the climate crisis.

“Climate change is already affecting the frequency, duration and intensity of extreme weather- and climate-related events in Canada,” said a statement from the government.

“Climate models indicate the country is warming at roughly double the global rate, especially in the North, which will lead to more damaging weather events.”

In Alberta, an early fire season meant the evacuation of communities across the north. On June 19, the Little Red River Cree Nation posted a statement on social media stating that fire officials were still working to control a fire around Fox Lake. Fort Chipewyan is currently working on a plan to bring home hundreds of people.

Crews in Quebec are still fighting dozens of fires across the province. The people living in two Innu communities in the eastern part of Quebec are now allowed back home.

“Throughout the summer, higher temperatures are expected to persist in these regions, as well as in the rest of Ontario and Quebec, British Columbia, and Atlantic Canada,” said Environment Canada.

“In anticipation of a warmer, drier summer and its associated severe conditions, Canadians are urged to regularly monitor weather forecasts, take all weather alerts seriously, and get prepared for weather-related events by developing an emergency plan.”

On top of a hotter, dryer summer, the government said some regions of Canada can expect “more intense rainfalls” including urban areas and along the coasts “due to local sea-level rise.”

“The average intensity of hurricanes is also expected to increase, though an increase in the total number of tropical cyclones is not expected,” said the government.

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