Rainfall likely won’t be enough to extinguish Quebec wildfires causing US smoke, officials say

Published 5:39 pm Tuesday, June 27, 2023

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MONTREAL — Rainfall likely won’t be enough to extinguish the wildfires ravaging northern Quebec, but the wet weather could give firefighters a chance to get ahead of the flames, officials said Tuesday, as Canada surpassed the record for area burned by wildfires this week.

Drifting smoke from wildfires across Canada is creating curtains of haze and raising air quality concerns throughout the Great Lakes region, and in parts of the central and eastern United States.

Meanwhile, NASA is reporting that smoke from wildfires in northern Quebec has reached Europe. The American space agency said satellite imagery from Monday showed smoke extending across the North Atlantic Ocean to the Iberian Peninsula, France and other parts of western Europe.

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Air quality in Europe has not deteriorated to the extent seen in Canada and the U.S., however, because of the height of the smoke in the atmosphere, NASA explained.

In Quebec, where nearly a quarter of the fires are burning in Canada, the province’s forest fire prevention agency — SOPFEU — is evaluating the effects of recent rainfall, Katia Petit, Quebec associate deputy minister for civil protection, told reporters

“If enough rain falls, it will allow SOPFEU personnel to intensify their work directly in the field, to work on the fires and prevent them from starting up again once the dry weather returns,” Petit said.

Environment Canada meteorologist Simon Legault said he expects rain to stop falling by Wednesday morning in the regions most affected by forest fires. He said warm, sunny weather could return thereafter with a chance of only isolated showers through the weekend.

More rain could come in the first week of July, but nothing like the “organized system” of showers covering the province this week, Legault forecasted.

Earlier this month, massive fires burning stretches of Canadian forests blanketed the northeastern United States and the Great Lakes region, turning the air yellowish gray, and prompting warnings for people to stay inside.

Despite the rain, the task of controlling the province’s fires remains “colossal,” said Julie Coupal, SOPFEU assistant director. The agency counted more than 100 wildfires across the province Tuesday, including 77 in the southern half, where more than two dozen fires were considered out of control.

The Canadian Interagency Forest Fire Centre reported Monday that 76,129 square kilometers (29,393 square miles) of forest and other land has burned across Canada since Jan. 1. That exceeds the previous record set in 1989 of 75,596 square kilometers (29,187 square miles), according to the National Forestry Database.

Currently there are 490 fires burning nationally, with 255 of them considered to be out of control.

Ongoing evacuation orders had displaced around 4,400 people in Quebec as of Tuesday morning.