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Evacuations ordered in western Quebec city of Val d’Or

June 21, 2023
The Canadian Press

By Jacob Serebrin

Residents of three rural areas of Val-d’Or, Que., in the province’s northwest, have been ordered to evacuate because of an encroaching wildfire.

The city says a fire burning in the area is once again out of control.

Residents of the three sectors were told to leave by 7 p.m. Tuesday.

The evacuations are the first in Quebec since residents of the northern city of Lebel-sur-Quevillon were allowed to return home Sunday after they had been forced out for two weeks.


Officials in Val-d’Or say the city’s urban area is not threatened by the fire.

Quebec’s forest fire prevention agency said earlier in the day that there were more than 100 forest fires burning in the province, but that only 17 were considered out of control. It has said this year’s wildfire season is the worst on record.

Meanwhile, the province’s natural resources minister said Tuesday that many Quebecers may have to celebrate the province’s Fete nationale holiday this weekend without fireworks.

Maite Blanchette Vezina said that a ban on outdoor fires – in effect across most of the province north of the St. Lawrence River – includes fireworks.

“It’s important to understand that it would be sad and harmful if fireworks set off other fires that could get out of control,” she told reporters in Quebec City.

The province’s national holiday, also known as St-Jean-Baptiste Day, is on June 24 and often celebrated with fireworks and bonfires.

Blanchette Vezina asked the public – as well as municipalities organizing Fete nationale or Canada Day celebrations – to be prudent.

“The last thing we want is for the celebrations to contribute to worsening the forest fire situation in Quebec,” she said.

In Lebel-sur-Quevillon, Mayor Guy Lafreniere described smoky conditions as “intense” and said people should protect themselves with N95 masks.

“For citizens who have health conditions that could be aggravated by the presence of smoke, it is strongly recommended to wear an N95 mask and, if it’s possible for you, to go somewhere where there may be less smoke,” he said Tuesday in a video posted on the town’s Facebook page.

Residents of the town should be prepared to leave again if the wildfire situation worsens, Lafreniere said.

A large fire near the community was moving toward the main road that connects the city to southern Quebec, Lafreniere said, adding that firefighters hoped a river would act as a natural firebreak and prevent the blaze from reaching the road. But he said the situation was concerning because no rain was expected before the weekend.

“It will absolutely take rain to help the forest firefighters,” he said. “It’s the only way, it’s really the rain that will make a difference in our case.”

Environment Canada has issued a smog warning for the city and for the neighbouring Abitibi-Temiscamingue region, which includes Val-d’Or.

Peter Kimbell, a warning preparedness meteorologist at Environment Canada, said the smog in northwestern Quebec is being caused by wildfires. The area has received significantly less precipitation this month than have other parts of the province, he added.

For comparison, he said, Sherbrooke, Que., in the Eastern Townships, has received close to 100 millimetres of rain this month, while Val-d’Or has received four millimetres.

“It’s very dry up there and, therefore, any lightning activity could definitely trigger more fires,” he said.

Significant rain may come next week, Kimbell said, though scattered thunderstorms were in the forecast for the weekend in parts of the region.

With files from Marie-Eve Martel in Montreal.

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