Evacuation orders were recently lifted in Quebec for residents who were directly affected by widespread wildfires. Despite this, the ongoing blazes were still resulting in poor air quality throughout much of the province.
According to Quebec’s Public Security Department, nearly all of the 2,300 evacuated individuals would be able to return to their homes by Saturday at the latest. The threat of forest fires has lessened due to rainfall over the past week, allowing for the safe return of residents.
In the town of Lebel-sur-Quévillon, which is home to over 2,000 people, essential workers began returning on Thursday, with a full return scheduled for Saturday. Mayor Guy Lafrenière expressed his anticipation for the residents’ return in a video message on Friday.
The western edge of a massive fire east of the town has been brought under control, according to Lafrenière. He noted the immense size of the fire, stating, “To give you an idea of the size of the fire, it measures 107 kilometers wide by 97 kilometers long,” which is 24 times larger than the city of Montreal.
Lafrenière also mentioned that four fires north of Lebel-sur-Quévillon had not expanded in the prior 24 hours. Additionally, a fire near a mine approximately 115 kilometers east of the town has been contained.
This marks the second time Lebel-sur-Quévillon has been evacuated since June 2.
The Cree First Nation Of Waswanipi, which previously evacuated individuals with health issues, pregnant women, elders, and infants due to the poor air quality, permitted all residents to return on Friday.
Officials stated that the only remaining evacuation order in effect, not scheduled to be lifted by the weekend, was for the city of Senneterre. Around 60 cottages, located roughly 30 kilometers north of the city center, remained off-limits.
As of Friday, fewer than 100 fires were burning in Quebec, with five of them classified as out of control, according to Quebec’s wilderness firefighting agency, SOPFEU.
Meanwhile, Environment Canada issued smog warnings for the regions surrounding Montreal, Gatineau, and western Quebec on Friday. The agency also predicted poor air quality for northern Quebec, including parts of the far north, as well as eastern and southern Ontario. It advised vulnerable individuals to reduce or reschedule outdoor strenuous activities.
According to the air quality-monitoring website IQAir, as of 1 p.m., Toronto and Montreal ranked third and fourth among major world cities with the poorest air quality. Only Jakarta, Indonesia, and New York City had worse air quality ratings. Real-time data from the United Nations Environment Programme indicated that the level of pollutants in the air in Montreal, Ottawa, and Toronto was at least ten times higher than recommended levels.