Forest fire near Lac Nilgaut in the TNO region.
QUÉBEC – Massive forest fires have been wreaking havoc across Québec since the end of May due to the hot, dry temperatures and low precipitation. By June 5, the province announced there were 160 active forest fires across Quebec, with most of them out of control. Recent rain and cooler temperatures have eased the situation slightly, and as of June 12, in the afternoon, local road closures were lifted.
The Société de protection des forêts contre le feu (SOPFEU) announced on June 5 that they could only control 30 to 40 fires at a time and were expecting help from the Canadian military. The same day, Premier François Legault said the over 2,000 square kilometers of blazes province-wide have forced about 10,000 people to evacuate their homes and created a blanket of thick smoke that covered most of the province, drastically decreasing air quality. Consequently, some roads have been closed, slowing transportation.
Since June 1, the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry (MRNF) has asked the public to avoid or restrict travel in the forest as much as possible and since June 4, have banned Crown land access and closed roads for reasons of public safety, to reduce the risk of new fires and to make it easier for SOPFEU to intervene. In Outaouais, the ban applied to Vallée-de-la-Gatineau, north of latitude 46° 45′, and Pontiac north of latitude 46° 15′.
Pontiac not spared but under control
The Pontiac was also hit by the fires with five outbreaks, the largest affecting more than 800 hectares. The major fire zone in the Pontiac was in the TNO region close to Lac Nilgault. The MRC Pontiac’s Council of Mayors decided to evacuate the Lac Nilgault area as of June 5.
Julien Gagnon, MRC Pontiac Public Safety Coordinator stated on June 12: “We had four fires close to Lac Nilgault and one fire near Bryson Lake which are all contained due to rain and fire fighters’ work.”
“There were four roads in the Pontiac that had closures in some areas: Picanoc, Bois-Franc, Schyan and Rapide. The closures have now been lifted, but people need to remain vigilant,” adding, “Around 1000 h of forests in the MRC Pontiac have burned, which is less than 1 percent. I don’t think this will affect the forestry in the region very much,” he concluded.
Unsurprisingly, road closures have impacted businesses like Domaine du Lac Bryson. “The access road to our lodge was closed and we’ve been cancelling bookings and rescheduling since June 4. Some of our guests were turned around by public security on the way here. It’s challenging and affects our income this month. I know 350 outfitters in Québec have been affected. We’re not in the danger zone, so we didn’t evacuate, but I know some in the fire zone who had to,” said owner Laurel Lebrun on June 6.
Be cautious with poor air quality
The Public Health Agency of Canada reminds the public to be cautious and follow certain guidelines due to decreased air quality. They published in a press release: “The population must pay close attention to public notices and regional alerts regarding the presence of smog and the quality of the air in the area. Depending on wind direction, the smoke will reach several regions and major cities in Québec. Smoky odours and cloudy skies mean air quality is affected. Smoke from forest fires can affect the health of people of all ages, especially people with asthma, heart conditions or respiratory problems like emphysema and chronic bronchitis. It’s recommended to close windows and limit outdoor activities,”
Exposure to smoke can cause stinging and watery eyes; runny nose and sinus irritation; sore throat and mild cough; and headache. Shortness of breath, wheezing (including asthma attacks), severe coughing, dizziness, chest pain, and heart palpitations are less common but more severe and may require medical attention.