More than 400 wildfires continued battering several provinces and the Northwest Territories at the start of the weekend, the majority of them in Quebec, Alberta and British Columbia.
Friday’s national snapshot from the Canadian Interagency Forest Fire Centre showed a growing number of out-of-control fires on the West Coast, as hot, dry weather fed flames and led to a fresh round of evacuation orders and alerts. Quebec still had the most active fires, at 139. Only a fraction of them are being suppressed by the province’s overstretched firefighting authorities.
With 2,414 fires recorded and 4.5 million hectares burned this year as of Friday evening, according to the centre, this has been the most active start to a wildfire season on record.
Quebec Public Security Minister François Bonnardel said Friday there should be about 1,200 people battling the blazes in his province by Monday, including hundreds of firefighters from the United States, Portugal and Spain, who are expected to join others from France and New Brunswick. So far, nearly 700,000 hectares of forest have burned in the province, more than 500 times the last decade’s average for this point in the year.
More than 15,000 people in Quebec have had to evacuate their homes since the end of May, when wildfires broke out in the regions of Abitibi-Témiscamingue, Chaudière-Appalaches, Côte-Nord, Mauricie, Nord-du-Québec, and Saguenay-Lac-Saint-Jean, the provincial Ministry of Public Security said in a statement Friday. Most of them are still waiting to return home.
To help these evacuees, Quebec announced Friday it will give each household a $1,500 lump sum. Quebec municipalities that have incurred additional spending on things such as emergency shelters will be fully reimbursed by the province.
Lyne Pinet, 44, fled Lebel-sur-Quévillon, in the province’s north, with her parents a week ago. They have had to buy necessities on the road.
“I left with almost nothing,” she said.
After spending a few days in motel rooms in the region, they drove to Gatineau, to stay with her brother. She said the announced compensation should cover the costs of their accommodation and other expenses.
But Ms. Pinet questioned the logic of giving a lump sum to each household, regardless of the number of people in it, or the number of days they have spent away from home.
Wildfires are also threatening homes in B.C.
On Thursday, about 2,400 residents in the Tumbler Ridge district, in the province’s northeast, were forced to leave their homes in the foothills of the Rockies. Michelle Chisholm, her husband and their two children were all packed and ready before the evacuation order came. A neighbour supplied a trailer to save the family’s horse.
“I just kept getting phone calls and phone calls of all these people who were willing to help, so that made me feel good, that strangers were willing to help, like, no questions asked,” Ms. Chisholm said.
Showers are predicted Saturday over the aggressive wildfire threatening the district, but forecasters say thunderstorms could sweep through the parched region without bringing any rain. According to Environment Canada, Tumbler Ridge and nearby Dawson Creek are experiencing heavy smoke and temperatures almost 10 degrees above normal.
Across the province, on Vancouver Island, another massive blaze cut off the lone highway into the coastal town of Ucluelet and the resort district of Tofino to its north, choking off tourism and forcing essential goods, such as fuel and groceries, through a roundabout route on logging roads.
Tofino Mayor Dan Law said his town’s water supply has been deeply affected by an extremely dry spring.
“Tofino went to Stage 2 water restrictions in May – that’s unheard of,” he said. (There are a total of four stages, with Stage 4 being the most severe.) “We’re encouraging visitors and residents and businesses to conserve as much water as they can and get used to conserving water in preparation for a dry summer.”
Dawn Postnikoff, general manager of the Tofino Resort and Marina, said business has been cut in half, forcing her to cut back on her staff’s shifts. Ms. Postnikoff said that while she can’t yet put a figure on the marina’s losses, it and other businesses in town are looking into possible subsidies.
“When you’re reliant on tourism and visitors, it’s not a small impact,” she said.
For tourists stranded in the town, Mr. Law said, “there’s worse places to be stuck.”
None of the fires on B.C.’s West Coast currently pose a threat to human life or critical infrastructure, according to Kimberley Kelly, a fire information officer for the Coastal Fire Centre in Parksville, B.C.
Smoke from this year’s intense wildfires has spread to areas that are normally spared the negative air-quality effects of large-scale burning.
A light haze of smoke that hung over Toronto for several days has now cleared. But smoke is still present in Western Quebec, Saskatchewan, Alberta and parts of B.C.
New York, Washington, and other major U.S. cities have suffered unprecedently poor air quality in recent days because of the wildfire plumes. The U.S. West Coast has dealt with similar problems for years, but this is the first time in recent memory that the country’s political and economic centres of power have seen such direct effects.
U.S. President Joe Biden described Canada’s fires this week as “another stark reminder of the impacts of climate change,” and ordered all of his country’s federal firefighting personnel to be ready to deploy to Canada.
With a report from The Canadian Press