Residents of northern Quebec awaiting help with forest fires

Remote northern communities are awaiting help to deal with major forest fires in Quebec.

Left to burn on their own, the fires have charred about 300,000 hectares of forest, caused an evacuation from one community, and hampered shipments of food to northern grocery stores.

Matagami Mayor Rene Dube, who chairs a regional group of elected officials, says he’s concerned that the town of Eastmain and a gold-mine project are being affected by fires which have been raging since June 9.

About 300 people, mainly the elderly, have been removed from the Cree community 1,200 kilometres north of Montreal.

They have been moved to Val d’Or, but Dube says many residents have stayed behind to try to protect the town.

SOPFEU, the provincial forest-fire protection service, has no jurisdiction above the 51st parallel and it’s waiting for a call from the government to intervene.

The main highway to James Bay also has been closed.

The closure means food and other supplies can’t be shipped into the area, and there are fears grocery-store shelves could run out of supplies unless aerial arrangements are made.

The fires are being blamed on the driest summer in 40 years around James Bay, the hub of the province’s hydro production.

Three major forest fires are being monitored — including the biggest one, which has raged at speeds of up to 30 kilometres per hour.

Satellite images show smoke over a sizeable chunk of the northwestern part of the province. Some of the smoke could even be detected this week hundreds of kilometres away, in Montreal.

The fires are being blamed for playing havoc with hydro transmission lines, which has caused numerous blackout in the province — including a rush-hour shutdown of the Montreal metro system earlier this week.