Canada’s Ongoing Fires Lead to Evacuations
By: Iris Xu
In early July, the northern region of Quebec faced devastating wildfires due to dry conditions, causing extensive destruction to spruce forests, cabins, and tourist camps. The situation was worsened by the fact that a lone road in the area, became inaccessible due to the fires, cutting off transportation to isolated Indigenous communities. Residents attempting to evacuate encountered intense flames and smoke, making escape perilous and frightening.
Meanwhile, hundreds of wildfires have burned across Canada since May, scorching more than 47,000 square miles of forest, causing over 25,000 Indigenous residents from British Columbia to evacuate to Nova Scotia. Indigenous communities are particularly affected by these fires, as they are on the frontlines of the blazes and rely heavily on forests for food and shelter. However, these remote areas receive lower firefighting priority due to their sparse population and fewer structures.
Canada's Department of Indigenous Services has provided $55 million in aid to the affected communities. The increasing frequency and intensity of wildfires in Canada are linked to climate change, and the blazes have broken records in terms of land burned and smoke emissions.
Evacuations from Indigenous communities, ordered by leaders in collaboration with the government, have been ongoing for weeks. Families were separated across long distances, seeking refuge in hotels and gyms. The wildfires have already forced many of the citizens to evacuate multiple times, with the fire season still ongoing.
Lately, in the Quebec region, inhabited by various Cree communities, has been hit particularly hard by wildfires more commonly seen in western Canada. A significant challenge faced by these communities is the disruption of their way of life, which revolves around hunting and fishing for food, as the fires damage the forest ecology and cultural heritage.
While no casualties have been reported among Indigenous communities, the impact on their territories and lifestyle has been immense. The large-scale fires, some of which continue for extended periods, have caused heavy smoke that has spread across the United States, posing health risks.
Kurtis Black, the fire chief in Nemaska, said, “I don’t think these fires will stop until everything is burned. These fires are here to stay until fall gets here — or the snow.”
There are disagreements between Indigenous leaders and the Quebec government regarding firefighting policies. The government's approach of allowing wildfires to burn in the vast landscape is defended as necessary due to limited resources.
Despite brief relief from rain, the fires and smoke often return, prompting repeated evacuations for the communities. The situation has led to significant damage to Cree traplines, essential for hunting and trapping during the fall and winter.
“Our territory doesn’t have a super high population, and we don’t have a lot of infrastructure that needs to be protected,” says Ms. Gull-Masty, the elected grand chief of the Cree Nation in Quebec, “But for us, our territory is our infrastructure.”