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Quebec Forest Fires Prompt Evacuations, Send Smoke, Haze South to Cape Cod

Forest fires raging in the province of Quebec sent smoke more than 300 kilometers (186 miles) southwest, blanketing Montreal and extending as far away as Boston.

Quebec officials have evacuated about 2,000 people from their homes as firefighters battle 47 forest fires burning in Canada’s second-most populous province, including seven that are out of control. Most of the fires were caused by lightning strikes, said David Pelletier, a spokesman for the province’s civil security agency.

Flames have scorched about 880 square kilometers (352 square miles) of forest in the past week, mainly in Quebec’s Haute-Mauricie region, Robert Lemay, a spokesman for the provincial forest-fire protection agency SOPFEU, said today. Quebec Natural Resources Minister Nathalie Normandeau banned all civilians from the remote region on May 27.

Environment Canada’s forecast for Mauricie, where the biggest fires are burning, calls for a 40 percent chance of showers late today with a risk of thunderstorms.

“This is a very delicate period,” Lemay said in a telephone interview from Val d’Or, Quebec. “The rain that we are getting in western Quebec should gradually move east, and we have to hope that the precipitation will be sufficient. But sometimes the rain sparks lightning, so we’ll just have to see.”

Residents of three native reservations and some from the town of Parent have been evacuated, Pelletier said. In some cases, the evacuees were taken by bus to locations as many as four hours away, he said.

U.S. Firefighters

About 1,200 firefighters are battling the flames, including 1,000 from Quebec and the remainder from the U.S. and Canadian provinces such as British Columbia, Lemay said.

The U.S. National Weather Service said smoke from the Quebec fires had spread across much of Maine, New Hampshire and as far away as Boston and Cape Cod, Massachusetts, Associated Press reported.

Quebec has received about one-third as much rain in May as normal, and average temperatures have been about 2 degrees Celsius higher than usual, said René Héroux, a spokesman for Environment Canada.

In Ontario, Canada’s most-populous province, about 1,200 firefighters are combating 71 fires, including 15 that are out of control, according to Don Mark, a spokesman for Ontario’s Ministry of Natural Resources.

Lightning Strikes

No one has been evacuated in Ontario, where about 9,000 lightning strikes were recorded overnight, Mark said in a telephone interview.

“We haven’t lost any cottages,” Mark said.

Ontario’s environment ministry today issued an air-quality warning for an area near the Quebec border that includes Ottawa, Cornwall and Brockville.

Visibility at the Quebec City airport yesterday was about 1.2 kilometers, compared with about 30 kilometers normally, said Héroux at Environment Canada.

To contact the reporter for this story: Frederic Tomesco in Montreal at tomesco@bloomberg.net.

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