Hot, dry weather keeps fires raging in Quebec

MONTREAL – The forest fires that have forced 2,500 from their homes continued to rage through Quebec Sunday, bolstered by wind, sun and dry conditions.

None of the nearby villages in the north and central regions of the province are at risk, said Marcel Trudel, a spokesman with Sopfeu, Quebec’s forest fire protection agency.

The majority of fires are burning near La Tuque, Que., about 300 kilometres northwest of Montreal.

Residents have complained of heavy smoke turning the skies yellow and the sun red and ash floating down onto their city, but Trudel said there was no cause for alarm.

The wind is starting to carry smoke and ash toward the Quebec-Montreal corridor, alarming residents.

But Trudel repeated his call not to worry, and asked residents to stop calling Sopfeu officials because they’re jamming emergency lines.

As of Sunday afternoon, 52 fires ranging in size from one to 40,000 hectares were burning in the province, bringing to 128 the number of fires Sopfeu has fought in the last week. So far, 90,000 hectares have been hit.

“We put some out, and new ones start all the time,” Trudel said. “That’s how it works.”

Of the 52 fires, eight are burning out of control, which is down from nine on Saturday but only because two of the major fires have combined to form one.

“It’s normal that we have fires out of control,” Trudel said. “That’s nature. If nature helps, it would get better.”

Rain is forecast for Monday night.

Thick smoke and dangerous conditions have forced the evacuation of four communities, three of them native reserves.

Only a few residents have been able to return.

More than 1,200 firefighters from Quebec, New Brunswick, New Hampshire and Maine are fighting the fires, a number Trudel said was sufficient for the task.

So far this year, 345 fires mostly started by lightning strikes and stoked by an unusually dry April and May, have been reported in Quebec, far above the 10-year average of 216 normally seen by this time, said Melanie Morin of Sopfeu.

It remains to be seen whether this year will surpass 2007, the most prolific of the last decade, when 892 fires burned through 278,000 hectares of forest.

Montreal Gazette

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