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‘Worst wildfire season:’ Quebec makes progress as wind fuels flames out West

June 12, 2023  By The Canadian Press


Quebec was on the offensive in its battle against a record wildfire season as gusting winds fuelled growing blazes out West, and the federal government said it would provide free travel documents and visa extensions for people affected across the country.

“This now qualifies, unfortunately, as Canada’s worst wildfire season of the 21st century,” Emergency Preparedness Minister Bill Blair said in Ottawa.

There were 431 wildfires burning across Canada on Monday afternoon and more than 200 were listed as out of control.

About 5,000 firefighting personnel have been deployed as the country continues to face the fierce foe. Hundreds more firefighters from Chile, Costa Rica, Spain and Portugal were expected to arrive in the coming days.

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The international effort has seen some success in Quebec, where thousands of people were starting to return to their homes.

Quebec Premier Francois Legault said there were more than 1,200 people fighting fires across the province, including reinforcements from New Brunswick and France.

Legault said there would likely be fewer than 4,000 evacuees by the end of the day, down from a peak on Friday of more than 13,500.

Across the country, however, nearly 32,000 people remained out of their homes because of smoke and raging wildfires.

Federal Immigration Minister Sean Fraser said some work and student visas for people affected by fires would receive extensions. Ottawa also planned to replace — for free — passports, permanent residency cards, citizenship documents and other travel documents that may have been destroyed by flames.

“Making sure these disasters don’t displace people who are on a specific kind of work permit is something I think is incredibly important,” Fraser said in Ottawa.

Sixty members of the Canadian Armed Forces have been sent to Nova Scotia, where firefighters were preparing to take to the sky in a new tactic to tackle the largest wildfire recorded in that province.

Officials with the province’s Department of Natural Resources are to fly in a helicopter¬†this week over the 235-square-kilometre fire in Shelburne County and use infrared scanners to detect areas where firefighters should be dispatched.

The fire in southwest Nova Scotia was no longer growing Monday, but it was still classified as out of control.

The military was also planning to deploy more members to Alberta, where a fire west of Edmonton has been growing rapidly. Edson, a town of 8,400 people, was evacuated Friday — the second time in the last few weeks.

Selena Wilson and Curtis Wardill said they hadn’t unpacked from the first evacuation.

“I’ve kind of had bags kept in the bedroom because I didn’t feel it was a good time to unpack yet with the weather being so crazy,” Wilson said Sunday at a campground east of Edmonton, where she and her husband have taken refuge in their camper.

Nearly 14,000 people were under an evacuation order due to fires across Alberta, the province said Sunday.

In B.C., two evacuation orders were issued Sunday for remote properties outside Fort Nelson as crews battled a 4,049-square-kilometre wildfire — the second-largest recorded in the province.

The B.C. Wildfire Service said winds responsible for the weekend trouble around Fort Nelson also aided firefighters on a separate blaze south of Fort St. John, which prompted an evacuation of the entire northeastern community of Tumbler Ridge.

More than 80 fires were burning in B.C., including a stubborn 2.5-square-kilometre fire in steep terrain above Highway 4 on Vancouver Island, forcing the continued closure of the main route to Port Alberni, Tofino and Ucluelet.

A convoy of supply trucks carried gas, food and other items into the region Sunday over a rough, four-hour detour, which has provided essential access to the Island’s west coast since the human-caused wildfire began raining debris onto the main highway last week.

In northern Ontario, the number of active wildfires increased to 68 — up from 62 on Sunday.

Ontario’s Ministry of Natural Resources said there was heavy smoke across the northeast due to fires in the province and in Quebec, with the smoke travelling as far north as Timmins and south past Sudbury and Parry Sound.

News from © Canadian Press Enterprises Inc., 2021

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