Quebec Province Fires
MONTREAL (CP) - Roaring fires that have claimed an area of
northern Quebec forest four times the size of the island of
Montreal and cast an eerie pall over some major cities in Canada
and the United States thwarted the efforts of firefighters Monday
to put them out.
Despite the efforts of more than 500 firefighters battling
intense heat and smoke on the ground and 18 water bombers dumping
thousands of litres from above, the 37 crackling infernos persisted
- nine of them out of control.
The fires, which are 1,000 kilometres north of Montreal in the
James Bay region, have sent thick clouds of smoke billowing towards
major population centres such as Montreal, Ottawa, and Toronto and
as far south as Washington, D.C.
A wind shift Monday sent the smoke drifting into the Maritimes,
where authorities in New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island issued
health alerts to residents.
"There is particulate matter in forest fire smoke that is a
respiratory irritant and depending on the individual, it may have
some effect," said Dr. Wayne MacDonald, New Brunswick's Chief
Medical Officer of Health.
At-risk groups include children, the elderly and people with
heart or lung conditions such as asthma or emphysema.
"It depends what the individual condition is as to how it plays
out," MacDonald said. "It's a respiratory irritant so if you have
asthma for example, it may make your asthma symptoms worse.
"Small children tend to breathe faster and take in more air.
They may be irritated. It may be anything from irritated eyes and
throat to developing a cough."
MacDonald said Environment Canada had said the effects of the
forest fires could be present until Tuesday in his province.
"There's certainly a haze in the air," MacDonald said in a
telephone interview from Fredericton. "I haven't been outside but
some people are indicating they smell it so it's obviously here."
Health officials in New York, New Jersey and eastern
Pennsylvania also urged people to avoid strenuous activity.
Winds pushed the smoke as far south as Washington, D.C., and
from Michigan to Massachusetts during the weekend.
"It smelled like someone's house was burning down," said John
Agee, a graduate student at the University of Albany in New York.
Pierre Lessard, a meteorologist with Environment Canada in
Quebec City, said the winds would continue throughout the week and
did not hold out much hope that heavy rain would save the day up
north - at least in the short term.
"We don't expect a lot of rain," he said. "We expect
thunderstorms again and if there are thunderstorms it means
possibly other forest fires will start."
Lessard said it wasn't unusual for other areas to be affected
and recalled that smoke from a northern Quebec forest fire in 1991
had darkened the sky in Halifax so much that street lights had to
be turned on.
Quebec Premier Bernard Landry should ask Ottawa to send the
Armed Forces to help with the firefighting, said Guy St-Julien,
Liberal MP for Abitibi-Baie-James-Nunavik.
Under the law, a premier must make a formal request before the
troops can be authorized to participate in such an effort.
St-Julien, who made public a latter he wrote to Landry, said in an
interview he felt obliged to speak up "in a case like this."
The smoke left a film of particles in its wake when it passed
through Montreal on Sunday, covering the city in a haze and giving
the sun a red hue as it peered through the clouds.
Lightning strikes sparked the fires a week ago and have so far
claimed 206,000 hectares, said Charlotte Leger, a spokeswoman for
Quebec's forest fire protection service.
"It's a just a little less than four times the island of
There have been no injuries but firefighters are being pushed to
their limits, trying to contain the infernos with firebreaks and
Heat and smoke have been "a real problem," she said.
"The intensity can be so high it makes a turbulence in the air
on top of the fire so it could be dangerous for the planes," she
said. "So they don't attack that way when it's too high. They do
it on the side, they attack the back of the fire and they protect
as much as they can before the fire can get to another part of the
About 50 helicopters have also been pressed into service for
transport or to battle the blaze, which is the worst in the area
Firefighters from Quebec have been aided by reinforcements from
Ontario and New Brunswick as well as water bombers from Manitoba
A small crew is trying to protect the Cree village of Nemaska,
whose 500 residents were evacuated from the town on Friday. A fire
wall has been built around the village but smoke is still thick.
"We're able to fight it but what we're afraid of is sparks that
fly through the air," said Chief George Wapachee. "There's
nothing we can do with these. We're hoping they don't land right in
the community because we have trees."
(Copyright 2002 by The Associated Press
CAMP DANIEL, Quebec (AP) - Cooler weather and intermittent rain
helped in the fight against forest fires in northern Quebec on
Quebec Natural Resources Minister Francois Gendron said
Wednesday the situation had improved dramatically over the last few
days. "We think we can gain control of them in the next few
days," he said in Camp Daniel, about 500 kilometers north of
Twenty-eight fires were burning late Wednesday across Quebec,
compared with about 40 at the start of the week. Part of that
decline occurred after some smaller fires joined to form single
"The surface hit by fires is immense but there's a lot of space
within the perimeter that hasn't been touched," Gendron said. To
date about 238,000 hectares - almost 24 million acres - of Quebec
forest has burned.
Gendron said it's too early to estimate the cost of the fires to
the forest industry but they have caused "almost no job losses".
He told reporters that factories using timber as raw material
"have stockpiles for their production. So anybody who puts forward
a figure for job losses due to the fires is off base - for now."
Gendron said 50 percent of the timber burned can likely be
recovered "so any loss estimates should be cut in half."
The firefighting effort, stepped up since the start of July,
costs Quebec about $1.5 million a day.
"The main perimeter of the fires is under control and after
that we just have to work on the small hot spots," said Gaetan
Lemaire, a fire crew chief. "The fire intensity is less so they
(the firefighters) are able to work closer to the fire and to have
Lightning sparked the fires about a week ago.
The smoke from the fires had spread south last week into New
York and New England. It has also blown and east as far as
For crews based at Camp Daniel, the situation Wednesday marked a
big turnaround from Monday, when the fire danger outlook was so
serious that the camp came close to an evacuation order.
On Wednesday, firefighters continued to focus on extinguishing
smaller fires. Two remaining major fires were far from the camp, in
a roadless area, and water bombers needed an hour's flying to reach
them. Those fires were due for more aerial water attacks Thursday.
(Copyright 2002 by The Associated Press
MONTREAL (CP) - The cost of battling wildfires sweeping northern
Quebec so far is $15 million and counting.
It costs an estimated $1.5 million a day to douse the fires
ravaging a wooded area north of Lac St. Jean, the Montreal Gazette
While consistently cool weather and some light rain helped tame
the flames, the situation is far from over, fire officials said
"We got one to two millimetres of rain. That's enough to cool
its ardour," said Eric Santerre of the provincial forest fire
"We've been lucky. It's getting better and better. But what we
really need are two days of heavy rain," he said. "If nature was
more generous, the (final) bill could be lighter."
With reduced smoke and heat, water bombers flew overhead for
direct hits on the crackling flames.
"There was so much smoke and heat that they couldn't get close
enough to the flames," Santerre said of a 1,000 square-kilometre
area that was burning uncontrollably a day earlier. "All they
could do was watch it burn. But that's over."
Firefighters working 12-hour days have contained about 25
But fire officials still fear the situation could change at any
moment. The forecast Friday called for a sprinkling of rain - but
with winds at 30-50 km/h that could fan the flames.
Fires have claimed about 2,500 square kilometres of forest
between the Manicouagan Reservoir and Lake Mistassini.
North of the 52nd parallel, where fires are allowed to burn
freely because the wood has no commercial value, fires have ravaged
3,500 square kilometres of forest.
Government officials reopened some roads Thursday.
While it's too early to estimate the cost of the fires to the
forest industry, the charred swaths aren't a complete write-off,
said Claude Chartier, an aide to provincial Resources Minister
Francois Gendron, after spending the day at Camp Daniel, 500
kilometres north of Quebec City.
"The trees have been burned but we can recover the trunks,
which still have commercial value," he said.
Also, while the surface hit by fires is huge, a lot of space
within the perimeter has been spared, he added.
Some forestry officials are saying the damage appears to be
Industry giant Abitibi-Consolidated said the layoff of 400
people last Friday in the Lac St. Jean area had more to do with
U.S. lumber tariffs than fires.
"The fires just accelerated the layoffs," said spokesman Erika
"We thought that because of all the smoke that everything was
destroyed," she said of fires that have affected about 200 square
kilometres, or about two per cent, of Abitibi's cutting rights.
"The financial impact for us is minimal." (Montreal Gazette)
(Copyright 2002 by The Associated Press