Rain, cool weather help crews fight Quebec wildfires
Crews fighting dozens of forest fires in northern Quebec got a break from the weather Tuesday, with cooler temperatures and a smattering of rain helping them in the fight to bring the flames under control.
A total of 39 forest fires were burning in the province Tuesday, with five of them rated as being out of control.
Flames have threatened several remote villages, forced more than 2,000 people out of their homes and sent a pall of smoke and haze over Quebec, eastern Ontario and deep into the northeastern United States.
But that's far less than a few days ago, when there were 60 fires burning and 16 out of control.
After days of backbreaking labour, the firefighters may now be able to bring more of those blazes under control thanks to forecasts of cooler weather and between 10 and 20 millimetres of rain across the region hit by the fires.
"That's going to give us at least one day to work on the big fires," firefighter Steve Grand-Maison told CTV Montreal. "Maybe take over those big fires and those 10 millimeters are really good for us to do that. That's going to give us a good break for that fire."
The acrid smoke from the fires has drifted west to affect Montreal and parts of Ontario and deep into the U.S. as far south as Cape Cod.
In Boston, smoke from the Quebec fires permeated the city with the smell of burning wood and a grey haze that clung to the horizon like smog.
"It kind of looks like L.A. in the summertime," said Boston resident Steve Courchesne, where he refused to let the pervasive wildfire smoke blacken his Memorial Day barbecue. "It looks sort of like every single house has a cook fire going... It's right at the house level."
One Bostonian wrote on Twitter: "Kinda crazy that forest fires in Quebec can blanket Boston with this much smoke. Damn Canadians."
The 1,300 people of Wemotaci, about 400 kilometres north of Montreal, abandoned their homes nearly a week ago. Over the weekend the fire came so close to the village that even firefighters were forced to evacuate the area.
"Yesterday we thought we'd lose it -- it was windy, really hot," said Lorraine Boivin. "Even here there was some smoke."
But a small amount of rain and a break in the heat allowed crews to beat the flames back from the community Monday.
Some Montrealers reported a burning smell so potent that they feared their homes were on fire. Others said their breathing was impacted.
The spreading cloud of smoke prompted health officials in Ontario, Quebec and New England to issue smog warnings and advise citizens with respiratory conditions to stay indoors.
Quebec's forest-firefighting organization says the wildfires have burned 109,000 hectares of the province's forests so far in 2010.
The flames from this week's fires have so far engulfed an area of forest twice the size of the island of Montreal.