Forest fires have hit the small community of Nemaska hard in recent years, and this year they are getting their share even earlier than usual.

At press time, 7,456 acres had been blackened by the season’s first forest fire, which started in early May and had been burning for a week.

“The fire isn’t close to the community,” said George Swallow, the Fire Department’s Director of Public Safety. “It got as close as 30 or 40 kilometres to the community but it’s heading southeast now.

“It’s burning very fast, it’s very dry. Although most of the area has already been burnt. The only place that hasn’t is around Lake Juliette,” said Swallow.

He also said that because the fire is in what is considered a non-restricted area, it will be left alone – for now.

“If it happened around Mistissini or Waswanipi, they’d put out the fire right away,” he said. “It’s because our trees are small, but the trees down there [further south] are worth a lot of money to the forestry companies.”

La Société de Protection des Forêts contre le Feu (SOPFEU) is monitoring the fire via helicopter and if it gets close to a community, they would be forced to take action. That would include water bombing and enlisting the help of Nemaska’s 35 firefighters.

The fire’s origin is a bit of a mystery. Swallow speculated that a carelessly discarded cigarette could have started the fire, but he could not confirm it. “The construction guys working on the Waskaganish transmission line for Hydro-Québec said it started around there,” he said.

Since this year’s forest fire season has started so early, Swallow warned community members to be diligent when out in the bush.

“Don’t throw lit cigarettes into the bush and try not to build campfires,” said Swallow. “It’s very dry. We’ve only had one rainfall since the first week of May.”

Until the fire, which was ranging from kilometre 340 to 370 at press time, stops or is put out, Swallow also advised against travel on certain parts of the James Bay Highway.

“We have a road block here and aren’t letting anyone travel on the Route du Nord. Starting from kilometre 300 to 407, we’ve advised people, that because of the smoke, they should not be traveling in that area.”

As recently as two years ago, a forest fire made its way to the outskirts of the community, which had to be evacuated.

“We need the help of everybody in the community to prevent that from happening again.”