Quebec fires

Rain brings little relief to Quebec forest fire crews 

19July 2005


Downpour helps slow flames’ spread but lightning could spark new blazes

Firefighters from across Canada and the United States are attacking 121 forest fires that continue to rage in Northern Quebec.

Yet despite the helicopters, water bombers and equipment amassing in the area to battle the blazes, the most effective weapon yesterday came from Mother Nature in the form of a heavy dose of rain.

In some areas of the province as much as 44 millimetres fell, slowing the flames, but not enough to stop them from spreading an additional 5,000 hectares to engulf more than 23,000 hectares. This year is the worst forest fire season in Quebec since 1932.

“We got some rain in the upper part of the province right on some of our biggest fires, so in that way it’s good,” said Gerard Lacasse, information co-ordinator with the province’s forest fire protection agency. “It’s a bit of a happier day for us, but it’s not over. We still have 121 fires, so there’s a lot of work to be donethere.”

The rain was good news for the small northwestern town of Lebel-sur-Quévillon, about 200 kilometres north of Rouyn-Noranda, which has seen one of the province’s largest fires creep closer.

A 4,000-hectare blaze was 14 km south of the town yesterday afternoon, Mr. Lacasse said. “We want to pay particular attention to that fire,” he said.

While the 3,250 residents of the town remain on alert and can see the smoke when the wind blows in the right direction, they are unperturbed, said Mireille Brazeau, director of the town’s Société de Développement Economique.

“People here are used to fire,” she said. “Each summer we have fires near or around the town. . . . We live surrounded by forests. People here are not really stressed, we talk about it for sure, but people are still out doing their jobs.”

The worst-case scenario, she said, would be if heavy smoke blows into the town. “If we have to evacuate, it will be because of the smoke.”

Crews will take advantage of yesterday’s rain by digging trenches, known as fire guards, as close as possible to the blaze in an attempt to keep the flames from spreading, Mr. Lacasse said.

Six uncontrolled fires were burning in the province late yesterday.

While the rain was welcome, it brought thunderstorms and lightning that could spark additional fires. Only 12 of the 121 fires were started naturally, Mr. Lacasse said.

Cloudy skies dropped the temperature to the mid-20s, a relief for the almost 1,000 firefighters on the ground, he said.

Crews from British Columbia, Alberta, Newfoundland, Quebec and the United States have leaped to the province’s aid, sending people, planes and machinery.

Half of the firefighters in Northern Quebec are from out of province, with 366 coming from British Columbia, 82 from the northern United States and seven from Parks Canada. An additional 100 from Alberta were due to arrive yesterday.

British Columbia has dispatched three Sikorsky S-61s aircraft, configured to carry a rapid-response fire suppression crew, as well as initial attack crews. It has been an uncharacteristically quiet fire season for B.C. crews so far, and the province is returning the helping hand it often receives during its busy summers.

In Quebec so far this year, 758 fires have scorched 397,189 hectares, almost eight times as much land and twice the number of fires at this point last year.


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