Quebec forest fires continue to rage out of control

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QUEBEC – The situation was still critical Friday in central Quebec as a dozen forest fires continued to rage out of control – forcing residents of two native reserves to flee.

Quebec’s forest fire protection agency, the Sopfeu, said 62 fires were burning across the province Friday morning and 14 were out of control. More than 29,000 hectares of forest have so far been destroyed.

The Abitibi region, in northern Quebec, and the Haute-Mauricie region, located north of Trois-Rivieres, are the two provincial hot spots.

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

As well, the forecast for hot and dry conditions for the next few days isn’t encouraging firefighters.

The Sopfeu also noted20 new fires flared up overnight Friday.

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 have landed in Quebec. The state of Maine said Friday it is sending 21 firefighters to help battle the wildfires.

One of the biggest blazes in central Quebec forced the evacuation of more than 1,300 people from the Wemotaci First Nation reserve, located 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.

"There’s room for everyone to sleep, that’s good news," said Transport Minister Julie Boulet speaking to reporters in La Tuque Thursday. "We’re here should other needs arise and we will support these people so their stay is the most comfortable possible, considering the circumstances."

The fire was still at the village’s boundaries 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 fire damage in the Wemotaci Atikamekw 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, where about 70 residents were evacuated, and Manawan, as well as the village of Parent, all in central Quebec.

Late Thursday provincial police said a preventive evacuation of 300 people was taking place in Manawan, involving people with health or mobility problems and pregnant women.

They were bused to Joliette where they were to set up camp in a local arena.

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