"Local Smoke" Forecast for Quebec As Forest Fires Rage; Haze in New England

Photo: National Post (Dario Ayala/Canwest News Service)

It's been a hot, dry start to summer - and Quebec is burning. A blanket of smoke descended on Montreal early Monday morning, blown in from forest fires raging in the northwest region of Quebec. The effects of the blaze were seen today as far south as Boston, Cape Cod and other parts of New England, reducing visibility to only three miles in some places.According to The Montreal Gazette, air quality monitor stations in parts of Montreal reported unusually poor air quality and "local smoke", prompting Environment Canada to issue a smog warning for Montreal and Laval, Vaudreuil, Soulanges, Huntingdon, Richelieu Valley, Ste. Hyacinthe, Lachute, St. Jerome, Lanaudiere, Mauricie, Drummondville, Bois-Franc and the Eastern Townships. Individuals with asthma, respiratory and heart illnesses were cautioned to avoid physical activity until the warning is lifted.

In addition, Montreal fire chief Richard Laporte recommended that people wear masks or hankerchiefs, and to keep their windows closed and air conditioners off, since they take in outside air.

At last count, 52 fires - ranging in size from a hectare to over 40,000 hectares - are burning, with the majority of them sited in the Haute-Mauricie region of Quebec, about 300 kilometres northwest of Montreal. So far 83,000 hectares have been affected.

Yellow skies, red moon

In some regions downwind, the fires turned skies yellow and tinted the sun and moon a reddish colour, including Montreal. Up to now, the flames, smoke and ash have forced over 2,500 residents in a number of villages to evacuate.

For officials, the number one priority is the ensure the protection of villages in the area, however, none of them are currently in danger, says Marcel Trudel, a spokesman with the Société de protection des forêts contre le feu (SOPFEU), which is responsible for managing forest fires in the province. More than 1,200 firefighters from Quebec, New Brunswick, New Hampshire and Maine have been enlisted to effectively fight the fires.

Eight of the fires are burning out of control, down from nine over the weekend. "We put some out, and new ones start all the time... [so] it's normal that we have fires out of control," explains Trudel, adding, "That's nature. If nature helps, it would get better."

And nature may be lending a helping hand: rain is forecast for Monday night, which will hopefully dampen things down. Lightning strikes, partnered with unusually dry conditions in April and May, were blamed for starting most of 343 fires reported in Quebec so far this year. According to officials, this is higher than the 10 year average of 216 fires typically seen at this time, but it is still not known if this year's fires will exceed those in 2007, which had the most fires this decade.

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