Northern Quebec’s largest town was being evacuated on Tuesday as firefighters worked to beat back threats from out-of-control blazes in remote communities in the northern and northwestern parts of the province.
According to the province’s forest fire prevention agency, more than 150 forest fires were burning in the province on Tuesday, including more than 110 deemed out of control. The intense Canadian wildfires are blanketing the northeastern U.S. and parts of Eastern Canada in a haze, turning the air acrid, the sky yellowish gray and prompting warnings for vulnerable populations to stay inside.
The effects of 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 Tuesday, 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 more details Wednesday.
“We’re following all of this from hour to hour, obviously,” Premier François Legault told reporters in Sept-Îles, Quebec. “If we look at the situation in Quebec as a whole, there are several places where it is still worrying.”
Legault said the Abitibi-Témiscamingue region in northwestern Quebec is an area of particular concern, with the communities of Normétal and Lebel-sur-Quévillon under threat.
The mayor of Lebel-sur-Quévillon, where about 2,100 people were forced from their homes on the weekend, said the fire is about 10 kilometers (six miles) outside of town, but its advance has been slower than expected.
“The fire started in an area where there were no trees, which slowed it down considerably,” Mayor Guy Lafrenière said.
Other northern communities at risk include Chibougamau the Cree village of Chisasibi on the eastern shore of James Bay. Firefighting resources have also been dispatched to Hydro-Québec’s Micoua substation near Baie-Comeau, Legault said.
On Monday, Legault said authorities had no choice but to leave the hamlet of Clova to burn, drawing the ire of local residents. Legault said Tuesday that he had simply repeated what fire prevention officials told him: the fire around the tiny community about 325 kilometers (201 miles) northwest of Montreal was too intense to send water bombers. That remained true Tuesday, he said, but he noted that no homes had burned.
Dominic Vincent, the owner of the Auberge Restaurant Clova, said that by Monday afternoon, the situation in the area had already improved, aided by cooler temperatures and a change in wind direction. While smoke remained visible, it was far less intense, he said.
Quebec Natural Resources Minister Maïté Blanchette Vézina told reporters in Quebec City that evacuees across the province number 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 Vézina said.