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Hope that rain will help quell Quebec's out-of-control Lac-St-Jean forest fire

QUEBEC — A major forest fire north of Lac-St-Jean remained out of control Monday, but authorities said they are hopeful that rain forecast for later this week will help firefighters battling the blaze.

The fire, which started in an area called Chutes-des-Passes last week, has grown to cover an area of more than 72,000 hectares, but forest fire prevention teams said its expansion had been slowing.

Heavy rain is forecast from Tuesday evening through Wednesday, which should help douse the flames and allow firefighters and water bombers easier access to the area.

Quebec's Forest Minister Pierre Dufour said an improperly extinguished campfire is the likely cause behind the massive blaze in the Saguenay-Lac-St-Jean region, a northern area that includes mostly chalets and fishing camps, but no communities.

Extra firefighters and equipment have arrived or are expected from Ontario, Manitoba and Alberta in the coming days.

In another fire on the radar of provincial authorities in Riviere-Ouelle, in the Lower St-Lawrence northeast of Quebec City, 50 people were forced from their homes as the smoke caused by a fire in a bog is creating heavy smoke and poor air quality.

Authorities report about 20 forest fires in Quebec currently.

A ban on open fires is in effect for much of the province and authorities are asking people to refrain from using fireworks ahead of the Fete nationale holiday on Wednesday.

Quebec has experienced two heat waves before the start of summer, a rare occurrence that has created dry temperatures.

"The heat wave and the drought are unfortunately the perfect recipe for the fires to expand," said Public Security Minister Genevieve Guilbault. "As of now, we already have twice the amount of blaze for the same period of the year."

Since the start of the year, the province's forest fire prevention organization, SOPFEU, has reported 460 fires, double the 10-year average at this time of year.

Eric Rousseau, head of SOPFEU, said humans caused 95 per cent of those fires.

"We're not talking about arsonists, it's poor surveillance, a moment of distraction or because it was poorly extinguished," Rousseau said. 

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 22, 2020.

— By Sidhartha Banerjee in Montreal.

The Canadian Press