Wildfire roundup: What you need to know about blazes burning across Canada

2023 June 7

A person wears a mask as they walk along the Rideau Canal in Ottawa on Wednesday, June 7, 2023. Forest fire smoke continues to shroud the nation’s capital, triggering air quality advisories. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick

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Hundreds of wildfires are burning across Canada, prompting widespread evacuations and blanketing cities in smoke. Here’s a look at developments Wednesday:

Canada marks Clean Air Day with air quality warnings

Hazy skies in Quebec and Ontario prompted air quality warnings in Canada’s most populated corridor as the country marked national Clean Air Day shrouded with the smoke from hundreds of wildfires.

Environment Canada’s air quality health index listed Ottawa and Gatineau, Que., as the worst in Canada Wednesday morning, followed closely by the eastern Ontario cities of Kingston, Cornwall and Belleville.

Residents in those cities were told to limit outdoor activities and for those most vulnerable to the smoke, to avoid them altogether.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau recognized the air quality statements on Parliament Hill saying people across the country are being affected, events are being cancelled and children are being kept inside at recess.

‘Code red’ air alerts in Washington

Officials in the U.S. capital have issued a “code red” air quality alert, as smoke from wildfires in Quebec and Ontario continues to drift south.

The D.C. Department of Energy and Environment describes the air quality as “very unhealthy” and is urging people to remain indoors if possible.

More than a dozen states in the northeastern U.S. are under similar alerts, with schools in New York City and Washington cancelling outdoor activities.

Poor visibility due to smoke was predicted to reach as far south as North Carolina by day’s end.

Record Quebec fires lead to more evacuations

Officials say Quebec’s wildfire season is the worst on record and the number of evacuees is expected to rise to more than 15,000.

More than 150 forest fires are burning in the province, with just under 100 considered out of control.

Premier François Legault says about 11,400 people have already been forced from their homes because of the fires and thousands more will likely have to flee the northern Cree town of Mistissini.

The most troublesome areas, Legault says, are in northern Quebec and in the western Abitibi region, where significant rainfall isn’t expected until Monday.

Ontarians urged not to start campfires

As smoke from wildfires degraded air quality for millions of people across the province, Ontario Premier Doug Ford is urging everyone to refrain from lighting campfires.

Fifty-four wildfires are burning in Ontario and 29 are out of control.

Ford says half of the fires were started by lighting strikes and the other half were caused by human activity, such as not properly extinguishing campfires.

Officials say a lot of the smoke blanketing Ontario also is coming from wildfires in Quebec.

Huge fire in Nova Scotia ‘being held’

Emergency officials say a record-breaking wildfire in southwestern Nova Scotia that has been burning for 11 days is no longer moving.

The province’s Natural Resources Department says the fire, which grew to be the largest on record in the province, is “being held” and is not expected to move if cool and wet conditions persist.

The fire, which started May 27 near Barrington Lake, destroyed about 60 homes and cottages and another 150 structures. About 6,700 people were forced to leave.

A construction industry leader says it could take years to rebuild.

Ottawa looking at national disaster agency

The federal government is studying options for creating a new national disaster response agency as Canada is experiencing its worst wildfire season in history.

A senior government source told The Canadian Press that discussions on a new approach are underway and include analyzing the merits of creating a Canadian version of the Federal Emergency Management Agency in the United States.

A new Canadian disaster response agency or team would not just be for fires, but for all disasters, including flooding and major storms.

Canada’s disaster response plans currently involve different levels of government on a case-by-case basis.

The Canadian Armed Forces has repeatedly been called on to deploy soldiers and equipment to help. The military has warned, however, that its help in a disaster should be a last-ditch response after all other options are exhausted.

Wildfire closes key Vancouver Island route

A small but aggressive wildfire on Vancouver Island is burning beside the only major highway linking Port Alberni, Tofino and Ucluelet to the rest of British Columbia.

The route is closed until further notice as the nearly one-square-kilometre blaze spreads not far from Cathedral Grove, home to some of Canada’s oldest and tallest trees.

The B.C. Wildfire Service says heavy equipment, helicopters and crews are attacking what is believed to be a human-caused fire.

Starting Thursday, campfires will be banned across most of B.C. as high temperatures and drought push the wildfire danger to high or extreme across Vancouver Island, the central Interior and the northeast.

The wildfire service is reporting more than 80 active fires in British Columbia.

Residents can return to N.W.T. First Nation

The K’at’lodeeche First Nation says residents can return to the reserve in the Northwest Territories more than three weeks after they were forced to leave due to a raging wildfire.

The fire is now classified as being under control, but the First Nation says it is still in a state of emergency.

There is no public access to the reserve. Power, water and sewer services have yet to resume.

The community was ordered to evacuate May 14 and the blaze damaged more than a dozen buildings, including the First Nation’s band office.