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Will Quebec’s forest fire season be as bad as it was last year?

Click to play video: 'Will Quebec’s forest fire season be as bad as last year?'
Will Quebec’s forest fire season be as bad as last year?
Watch: With wildfires raging out west, many people have begun to wonder what Quebec's 2024 wildfire season will look like, and if it will be as bad as 2023. Dan Spector reports – May 19, 2024

The harrowing wild fires ripping through parts of western Canada are igniting bad memories in Quebec.

In 2023, Montreal and large swaths of the province were blanketed in smoke as towns further north were evacuated due to the flames.

The big question on the minds of many: what’s it going to be like this year?

“The expectation is that it will not be as catastrophic as it was it last year,” said Evelyne Thiffault, a professor of forest ecology and management at Université Laval in Quebec City. “We should not have such a terrible summer.”

At one point during the summer of 2023, Montreal was the city with the worst air quality in the world.

Click to play video: 'Alberta Wildfire video shows overnight helicopter firefighting efforts'
Alberta Wildfire video shows overnight helicopter firefighting efforts

Pillars of smoke wafted down from sprawling forest fires in the north that caused some towns to be evacuated.

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According to Thiffault, however, this year is looking better. Forecasts can change, but she says here it’s looking like more moisture and less severe drought conditions in Quebec than last year.

“The moisture should be high enough so that there should not be as much of a drought as we had the last year,” she said.

By comparison, Thiffault said drought conditions in western Canada are severe. Multiple communities in Manitoba, B.C. and Alberta have issued emergency evacuation orders and alerts due to wildfires. Some of the fires currently burning were smouldering all winter.

“The west has been in a drought, period, since last year,” Thiffault said.

Quebec’s moist spring doesn’t mean there won’t be any fires. There have already been over 80 in the province this year, according to SOPFEU, Quebec’s forest fire fighting agency.

“That was really due to having less snow and a spring that started earlier,” said SOPFEU spokesperson Melanie Morin, adding that all the fires so far were caused by people.

Eighty is an average amount of fires for this time of year. SOPFEU isn’t taking anything for granted.

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Are Canada’s water bombers ready for forest fires?

“It’s actually really impossible for us to say what this summer will bring in terms of wildfire,” Morin said.

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The agency says it is fully staffed and feeling empowered by a recent announcement that Quebec will provide $29 million in new funding over the next five years.

“We’ll be hiring 160 new personnel in 2024 and 2025,” Morin told Global News.

As fire season approaches, however, a labour conflict is also raging.

UNIFOR Quebec director Daniel Cloutier said there’s a lot of turnover at SOPFEU because fire fighters are tired of risking their lives for just over $20 per hour.

“We have to increase the wages to make sure that the question is more easy to answer at the end of the season: ‘Yes, I will be back,'” he said.

Morin said SOPFEU continues to negotiate with UNIFOR.

Workers voted in favour of a strike last week, but as an essential service, they can’t and won’t walk off the job when they’re needed.

“Obviously, we will not let Quebec burn,” Cloutier said.

Though people may usually hope for clear, sunny skies, wet weather that continues throughout the spring will help keep the flames and smoke away.

Click to play video: 'Fire risk continues to grow as B.C. communities continue to expanded into sensitive areas'
Fire risk continues to grow as B.C. communities continue to expanded into sensitive areas

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