The federal government said Friday (July 14) it will deploy Canadian Rangers to help evacuate northern Quebec communities threatened by wildfires, as several Cree nations ramped up air evacuations for vulnerable residents.
Emergency Preparedness Minister Bill Blair announced the news on Twitter, adding that the government will also dispatch “air assets” to help fly people to safety.
Writing on Twitter, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Ottawa’s resources will support “emergency evacuation efforts.”
“The wildfire situation across the country remains incredibly serious — and we continue to provide assistance as needed,” Trudeau said.
Canadian Rangers are part of the Canadian Army Reserve who live in remote, isolated and coastal regions of the country.
The Cree nation of Eastmain, on the east coast of James Bay, began evacuation flights on Friday after declaring a state of emergency due to fires late the day before.
“This situation is getting worse and now is the time to evacuate and bring our people to safety,” read a notice on the community’s official Facebook page.
In a Friday afternoon update, an Eastmain spokesman said several flights had departed the community, with more expected Saturday. Leaders were setting up command posts in Eastmain, and the towns of Rouyn-Noranda and Val-d’Or to help offer information and services, the spokesman added.
The Cree Health Board reported that the communities of Nemaska, Waskaganish, Wemindji and Chisabi had started to evacuate vulnerable residents whose health could be at risk.
Waskaganish announced late Thursday that two flights were being arranged to evacuate some residents to Quebec City based on advice from health authorities and the fire prevention agency. Access roads to Waskaganish are closed, the Cree health authority said.
Wemindji closed its administrative office to all but essential personnel because of poor air quality, while several communities warned that services would be reduced. The Cree Grand Council said Thursday that roads leading to several areas were restricted, and that efforts were underway with various levels of government to establish an “air bridge” to ensure the villages receive essential goods and medical supplies.
There were 126 wildfires burning in the province as of Friday afternoon, including 86 in the northern zone where several Cree nations live.
Josée Poitras, a spokesperson for Quebec’s forest fire prevention agency, said the current fires in the northern zone are fuelled by lightning and dry conditions that allow flames to travel quickly.
“We’d like to have rain but it’s not forecasted,” she said in a phone interview.
She said the flames weren’t immediately threatening any homes or businesses but could force road closures and cause heavy smoke that is harmful to people’s health.
As of Friday, she said that more than 2.6 million hectares of forest had burned in the province’s northern zone, which is 10 times more than usual for this time of year.
Morgan Lowrie, The Canadian Press