Wildfires Spread in eastern Canada, Forcing Evacuations in coastal Quebec

Nova Scotia Government/Handout via REUTERS
View of the Barrington Lake wildfire, Nova Scotia, Canada in this social media handout image released May 31, 2023.

MONTREAL (Reuters) – Some 10,000 residents in coastal Quebec were forced to evacuate homes on Friday as wildfires engulf more Canadian provinces, in what is emerging as one of the worst starts to the forest fire season.

The mayor of Sept-Iles, a coastal Quebec city, declared a local state of emergency on Friday, as wildfire risk led to evacuation orders in the region.

Quebec’s Public Security Minister Francois Bonnardel said Friday afternoon that he had reached out to the federal government to seek the army’s help.

Canadian armed forces have been deployed in western Canada since early May and troops were sent to Nova Scotia on Thursday. Help has also come from United States, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa, and more help is expected to arrive next week.

Some 30,000 people across Canada are displaced due to forest fires that are burning in nearly all of Canadian provinces.

More than 2.7 million hectares have been scorched so far this year across the country, equal to more than five million football fields, federal Emergency Preparedness Minister Bill Blair has said. That’s more than 10 times the average area typically burned by this time of year over the past decade.

On Friday, Blair said there were 214 fires burning across Canada, 93 out of control.

“The situation remains severe across the country,” Blair said.

“Alberta, the Northwest Territories, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Quebec, New Brunswick and Nova Scotia – they are all experiencing interface wildfires,” he said, referring to fires that have the potential to impact buildings and forest fuel or vegetation simultaneously.

Wildfires are common in Canada’s western provinces, but this year the eastern province of Nova Scotia is reeling from its worst-ever wildfire season.

Quebec Premier Francois Legault has urged people to avoid spending time in forests over the next few days.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, promised to keep providing federal assistance to impacted provinces.

“This is a scary time for a lot of people from coast to coast to coast,” he told reporters on Friday. “We will continue to be there to support in whatever ways we can.”