QUEBEC CITY – Quebec will experience a “historic” wildfire season in 2023, the director general of the Society for the Protection of Forests from Fires (SOPFEU), Eric Rousseau, announced on Tuesday.
At a news conference in Quebec, he assessed a “record-breaking” season in which 4.5 million hectares of forest were burned, including 1.1 million hectares in habitable areas.
The previous record, set in 2005, was 386,671 hectares burned in the habitable zone.
At the end of May, the operational capacity of SOPFEU – which can fight 30 fires simultaneously – was already exceeded. Then, on June 1, what Rousseau called “the great flood” arrived.
There were more than 150 active fires, of which about 100 were declared “out of control.”
In all, there were 711 fires – almost all caused by lightning – and nearly 27,000 people were evacuated in 27 municipalities.
Fortunately, SOPFEU was able to rely on the Canadian Armed Forces, as well as firefighters from other provinces, the United States, France, Spain, Portugal and South Korea.
“SOPFEU has achieved a real breakthrough (…) by protecting human lives, communities and strategic infrastructure in Quebec,” said Eric Rousseau.
An additional $16 million
To help SOPFEU face this new reality, the Quebec government announced Tuesday that it will release an additional $16 million.
Thirteen million will enable the acquisition of additional equipment, different types of vehicles, mobile housing units, and communications equipment.
The remaining $3 million will be used for prevention and training activities in the province.
These amounts are in addition to the nearly $200 million announced last week during the economic update to plant 40 million trees over the next eight years.
“The 2023 season will leave a scar on the Quebec forest. It will be there before the summer of 2023 and after the summer of 2023,” Minister of Natural Resources and Forestry Maite Blanchette-Vezina announced Tuesday.
For his part, Mr. Russo responded by calling the investment “a breath of fresh air.” He stressed that his organization had been “in discussions with the government for a long time.”
“In terms of prevention, I think it would be really good. Do we have other needs in other places? Yes. We are in discussion.”
According to him, it will eventually also be necessary to replace the air conveyors. He added that SOPFEU “lacks” resources when it has to fight fires in several areas at the same time.
On Tuesday, Quebec Solidaire (QS) spokeswoman for natural resources and forestry, Alejandra Zaga Méndez, noted the importance of having a “global vision.”
“SOPFEU has been underfunded and neglected for years. What we are seeing today is just catching up, but it is not enough.
Staff hit hard
Furthermore, SOPFEU revealed that around twenty of its employees were “particularly affected” by the “exceptional” season they had experienced and had to “take a break”.
“We are going through very difficult things and this is difficult for employees,” SOPFEU Human Resources Director Dominique Bagge explained at a press conference.
Last week, the mayor of Chapet, Isabelle Lessard, announced her resignation due to post-traumatic stress disorder linked to the forest fires.