Port-Cartier, Que. officials say forest fire situation unchanged after evacuations

MONTREAL — Forest fires that prompted a partial evacuation of the north shore city of Port Cartier, Que., are holding steady, officials said Saturday as they extended a local state of emergency put in place when some residents were asked to leave.

Roughly 1,000 residents from three specific regions were forced to flee their homes on Friday when a fire began approaching local infrastructure, Mayor Alain Thibault explained at a Saturday news conference.

The growing blaze made it necessary for him to order the evacuation of residents from the Parc Brunel and Parc Dominique areas, as well as those living north of Route 138.

“It might have appeared quick, but it was efficient,” he said. “We are sorry if you felt rushed, but you will understand there were all of things to get put into place.”

Port Cartier general manager Nicolas Mayrand said “the situation had not changed much as of Saturday.

Port-Cartier Fire Department Chief David Lamarre described the blaze as “extremely violent, extremely menacing,” noting it had crept to within 13 kilometres of town as of Saturday.

Employment Minister Kateri Champagne-Jourdain, the provincial legislator for the riding that includes Port Cartier, said Quebec would be offering up to $1,500 for each primary residence evacuated.

Isabelle Gariépy, communications officer for provincial forest fighting agency SOPFEU, said waterbombers are currently working to put out the flames and firefighters will have a lot of work on their hands in the next few days.

“We will have a lot to do in the days that will come,” she said in a phone interview.

Of the four fires in the Sept-Rivières region surrounding Port Cartier, three are out of control, including one west of the city of Sept-Îles – all of which were caused by lightning strikes.

As of Saturday afternoon, one of the fires closest to Port-Cartier is considered contained, the SOPFEU website indicated.

“The weather at this time is very dry and the intensity of the fire danger is extreme in the eastern part of Quebec,” Gariépy said, adding that while the blaze has so far not progressed since Friday night, warmer afternoon weather could cause the flames to spread.

A post on the municipality's Facebook page asks residents who have not fled to keep their doors and windows shut and limit time spent outdoors to avoid exposure to smoke. Those who experience wheezing, violent coughing or heart palpitations should seek medical attention, it added.

Quebec provincial police are asking the public to avoid venturing into the forest and refrain from starting open-pit fires.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 22, 2024.

Joe Bongiorno, The Canadian Press