Major forest fires force evacuation in Quebec; reinforcements on the way

QUEBEC — Firefighters battled Thursday a series of out-of-control fires in central and northern Quebec that forced the evacuation of an entire native reserve and called for reinforcements from other provinces.

Quebec’s forest fire protection agency, the Sopfeu, said 49 fires were raging across the province Thursday afternoon and 15 were out of control.

Some 28,000 hectares of forest have so far been destroyed.

The Abitibi region, in northern Quebec and the Haute-Maurice region, located north of Trois-Rivieres, are the two provincial hot spots. “The situation is pretty critical,” said Sopfeu spokeswoman Eloise Richard.

The recent heat wave in Quebec has increased the risks of forest fires and lightening also sparked fires.

The forecast for hot and dry conditions for the next few days isn’t encouraging firefighters. “We’ll have to wait and see, but the weather doesn’t seem to be on our side,” Ms. Richard said.

The fire protection agency has 14 water bombers, 50 helicopters and more than 800 firefighters battling the flames across the province. It has requested reinforcements from the Canadian Interagency Forest Fire Centre and two water bombers from Manitoba were expected to arrive Thursday.

Ms. Richard said firefighters are working at securing villages and houses in the affected areas and preventing new fires from blazing out of control.

One of the biggest blazes – made of 12 out-of-control fires – in central Quebec forced the evacuation of more than 1,300 people from the Wemotaci First Nation reserve, situated some 300 kilometres north of Trois-Rivieres.

The residents were taken by bus Wednesday night to nearby La Tuque and bunked down at the school or with friends, family or at the hotel.

The fire was still at the village’s limit Thursday and a thick cloud of smoke covered the region.

“There’s smoke over an area of 100 kilometres by 100 kilometres,” said Jacques Raymond, spokesman for civil security in the Mauricie region.

The provincial police said Thursday fire damaged in the Wemotaci Atikamekws reserve was limited to a home and a shed.

The evacuation order was still enforced and the road that leads to the village remained closed.

Authorities are also keeping their eyes on fires near the reserves of Obedjiwan and Manouane and the village of Parent, all in central Quebec.

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