The record-breaking heat has made for a devastating summer for the forests of Eeyou Istchee as raging fires have postponed community events and interrupted work.
At its height two weeks ago, 138 forest fires ravaged northwestern Quebec. The Société de Protection des Forêts Contre le Feu (SOPFEU) is closely watching the 40 remaining forest fires in the region. There have been 810 fires this season, almost double the five-year average of 410. During the dry hot months many of the fires are caused by lightning. “We received help from B.C., Alberta, and the U.S.,” said SOPFEU spokesperson Alexander Santerre. “We had 600 extra firefighters on hand. July is usually calmer but this year is quite different.”
With so many firefighters working to curtail the destruction it is a miracle nobody has been hurt. “A few firefighters suffered from dehydration because it is very hot close to the fire,” Santerre noted. The road to Matagami has been re-opened and the fires are slowing thanks to the hard work of firefighters and the cooling temperatures.
In June Eastmain-1 (EM-1) had to be completely evacuated because of the incandescent intensity of Quebec’s supernova forests. Again this month, 1,900 people had to be evacuated from the EM-1 because of the renewed vigor of the fires July 16 and 17. Planes were provided to transport employees to their homes in Val-d’Or, Montreal, Quebec, Chibougamau, and other communities. The roads were also busy with employees leaving before the fires got too close. The employees returned to work on July 21.
EM-1 is well-prepared to handle these types of fire situations; it employs a dedicated fire fighting team of 20 workers. There are also anywhere from 12 to 15 helicopters ready to suffocate any flames with a deluge of hundreds of gallons of water. The B-14 helicopter can drown a fire under 600 gallons of water.
Because of the severity of the fires this month, SOPFEU and EM-1 work cooperatively to control the situation. EM-1 shares their helicopters with SOPFEU when the fire season is highest.