OTTAWA, June 13 (BNA): Smoke engulfed western Canada Monday as wildfires raged again in the key oil-producing province of Alberta, while firefighters in Quebec put out some of the early seasons’ worst blazes, allowing thousands of evacuees to return home.
Canada is seeing its most destructive start to the wildfire season, Reuters reports, with some 4.8 million hectares (48,000 square kilometers) already burning — an area larger than the Netherlands in Western Europe.
Wildfires occur regularly in the summer, but the scale of the current fire—and its early reach—is unprecedented. On Monday, about 449 fires were burning across Canada, including 219 that were out of control, according to the Canadian Interagency Forest Fire Center.
“If you look at western Canada, it’s completely covered in smoke and that continues into Tuesday,” federal meteorologist Gerald Cheng told reporters Monday. “The risk of smoke is very high because the winds are already transporting smoke across Alberta today and into Tuesday.”
Fires in Alberta send plumes of smoke eastward over the prairies of Saskatchewan and Manitoba.
TC Energy said two compression stations and a gas storage facility near the Edson wildfire were closed on Saturday.
Environment Canada’s Air Quality Health Index put Alberta’s capital city of Edmonton and oil sands hub Fort McMurray in the “high risk” category.
Eastern Quebec saw the number of active fires drop to about 110 on Monday from about 150 last week that caused a blanket of smoke over the US East Coast.
Some rain was expected in Monday’s Quebec forecast, Cheng said, but not enough in places with the most active fires.
“Moreover, only rain is expected with thunderstorms and lightning — especially later in the week,” Cheng said, noting the risk of lightning strikes igniting new fires.
Nearly 5,000 firefighters are deployed in Alberta, Nova Scotia and Quebec, and Canada’s Defense Minister Anita said in a briefing Monday that more military personnel will be deployed to Edson.
The fires also forced Canada’s forestry industry to close sawmills, sending up lumber prices and setting production back by several months while housing construction slowed due to rising costs and a tight job market.
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