MONTREAL — Thick, smoky air blanketed many parts of Quebec on Sunday as more than 110 wildfires raging in the northern parts of the province set more communities on high alert for new evacuation orders.
Environment Canada issued smog warnings for wide swaths of the north, south and west of the province, including Montreal, Quebec, Laval, Longueuil and Trois-Rivières.
In Montreal and Ottawa, the air quality health index was listed at 10 or more, a level described as “very high risk.”
Environment Canada said the poor air quality due to the forest fires will likely continue until Monday morning, adding the risk is highest for people with lung or heart disease, elderly people, children, pregnant women and those who work outdoors.
“Stop any outdoor activities and contact your health care provider if you or someone in your care experience shortness of breath, wheezing (including asthma attacks), severe coughing, dizziness or chest pain,” it wrote. “If you experience any symptoms or feel unwell, stay indoors.”
In Montreal, the smell of smoke lingered under yellow-gray skies as officials cancelled activities and urged people to stay indoors.
A triathlon in Montreal and an ironman race in Mont-Tremblant were both cancelled, along with local soccer and baseball matches.
Meanwhile, the 7,500 residents of the northern Quebec municipality of Chibougamau were on edge after warned they may need to evacuate their homes for a second time this month as two out-of-control wildfires gain ground.
Officials issued a Facebook post saying they’re asking residents to stay vigilant and calm in case they have to leave.
Since Thursday, thousands of people have been asked to leave their homes in northern Quebec due to heavy smoke from the fires.
Those include the 2,000 or so residents of Lebel-sur-Quevillon, sectors of Senneterre and Val-d’Or in the northwest, as well as several smaller villages.
Lebel-sur-Quevillon councillor Denis Lemoyne said in an update that the smoke and temperature conditions were “pretty intense,” but officials were hopeful that calmer winds “should give us a chance.” The community was forced to asked residents to leave for a second time last week, only days after being allowed back home.
The Cree Nation of Mistissini said Saturday on its Facebook page that firefighting teams and armed forces were being forced to relocate as fires threaten an access road.
They said the community could also be at risk of “heavy smoke and potential fire” if unfavourable winds cause a worst-case scenario, and said it was providing buses to help those remaining in town to evacuate.
Several other communities have relocated vulnerable residents due to smoke risk.
Stephane Caron, a spokesman for the province’s forest fire prevention agency, said the heavy smoke was limiting the ability of water bombers to fly due to reduced visibility.
He expressed hope that rain forecast in many regions over the coming days could help firefighters and allow the planes to resume their full capacity.