Numerous forest fires have spread throughout the Cree Nation with an unbelievable force this past month due to extremely dry conditions in the north. Wildlife has been seen fleeing in all directions and most communities have been warned about possible evacuations.

Eastmain public safety officer George Cheezo said 330 people were evacuated to Val d’Or due to thick smoke invading his community. “The fire moved from 60 to 30 km southeast of Eastmain June 6 but thankfully the rain has finally arrived and we are in the process of notifying people to come back home,” Cheezo said.

Wemindji was also evacuated for the same reasons on May 30. Residents were then told to head back the following Monday. Other communities did not receive any indication to evacuate immediately, but local fire departments gave out major warnings for everyone to be ready if the time came.

“All worksites in the area including EM-1 and other Hydro-Quebec camps had to be completely evacuated,” Nemaska Chief Firefighter George Swallow said. “The intense fires are only 13 km northeast of these sites.”

These wildfires usually pay a visit to the James Bay territory every year, but the number of them is definitely increasing as the years pass. Environmentalists say they are due to global warming. But some elders believe that, in the past at least, the fires were the Creator’s way of cleansing the earth.

“The worst thing you can do is panic,” advised Mistissini Chief Firefighter Jeff Spencer. “It’s better to stay inside and listen to the radio for news and advice and make sure you keep the windows shut so the smoke does not invade your house. If you even think that you are experiencing any kind of health-related problems due to the smoke, please contact your local clinic immediately. Professionals are there ready to help.”

Spencer also noted that the Route du Nord is now reopened to travelers but that they should contact local police and fire departments to make sure they are safe to drive on.

“Numerous animals are crossing that way so I strongly suggest that people drive very slowly,” he warned.

Due to the fires surrounding Mistissini, a lost two-year-old bear was found roaming the streets of the community. It was pushed south of its natural habitat. Given that it could cause possible danger to the community, it had to be killed.

According to la Société de protection des forets contre le feu (SOPFEU), there were 404 fires in the province of Quebec this year and there were still 29 fires active at press time. In James Bay alone, 29 fires took place since the beginning of the season and there were still 19 active at press time.

On the whole, the rain has helped in a great way and the humidity is on the rise again. People in the communities are praising the rain and all of the firefighters.