Worst Year in a Decade for Forest Fires in Quebec

Quebec’s hot summer so far, with long stretches of little rain, has contributed to a large increase in the number of forest fires around the province.

It is only early July but 2020 is already the worst year in a decade in terms of hectares lost to forest fire in Quebec.

Since January, nearly 61,300 hectares of forest have been destroyed by fire in what’s known as Quebec’s “intensive zone,” roughly the area south of Chibougamou, Que.

The average for this time of year is 33,600 hectares of forest lost to fire, according to Quebec’s forest fire prevention organization SOPFEU.

Quebec’s intensive zone hasn’t lost more than 60,000 hectares to forest fire in a whole year since 2010, when around about 223,358 hectares was burned.

Yan Boulanger, a research scientist in forest ecology at Natural Resources Canada, said his agency had predicted that weather conditions would leave the province with a particularly harsh forest-fire season. 

“All the conditions were there to create fire-conducive weather,” Boulanger said in a recent interview. “It was very dry, very warm, so if there was some ignition, the fire could spread very, very rapidly.” 

The ignition usually comes from humans. As many as 90 per cent of the fires this year have been caused by human-activity, said SOPFEU spokesperson Cathy Elliot Morneau.

Morneau said the COVID-19 pandemic has also contributed to this year’s destructive forest-fire season. 

Many people self-isolated in their cabins and secondary homes, following public-health guidelines. Some took the opportunity to clean up and opted to burn their waste. 

“They cleaned their garage. They cleaned their lawn. They burned leaves a lot.… And then [the fire] went, for some of them, in the forest. So it burned some of the forest,” Morneau said. 

“The spring was really dry too so it was a hard combo for us.”

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