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Wildfires continue to burn out of control in Quebec

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

The hazardous smoke that blanketed the Midwest and East Coast creating apocalyptic skies last week has largely cleared, but the massive wildfires that generated all that smoke are still burning in eastern Canada. And that's where NPR's Nathan Rott is today. Hi, Nate.

NATHAN ROTT, BYLINE: Hey, Ari.

SHAPIRO: What's the situation right now where you are in Quebec?

ROTT: It's improving. So there's been rain kind of in fits and starts all day across much of Quebec, which has really helped the air quality here. You know, waking up in Montreal this morning, you wouldn't know that there's fires burning anywhere in the region. And there is some hope locally that the precipitation will help firefighters get a better handle on the more than 100 active wildfires that are still burning in this province. I say some hope because some of these active fires may not see that much rain at all. We're going to get a better idea tonight. The other big news here is that the province is finally getting some more foreign help. More than 100 U.S. firefighters are being deployed to central and western Quebec. Many of them are showing up today, which is huge because local firefighting agencies have been stretched so thin over these last couple of weeks.

SHAPIRO: And this isn't an area that typically has major wildfires, right?

ROTT: Yeah, that's right. I mean, this province has already had 10 times as much area burned as it normally would in a full fire season, and we're still in June, right? So that's been part of the issue. I talked to a spokesperson with the province's - the Quebec's firefighting agency earlier today, and she said they simply don't have enough firefighting resources on hand to handle this much fire all at once, which is why they're bringing in so many people from other parts of the world - New Zealand, France, the U.S., etc.

SHAPIRO: So what's made this year so bad?

ROTT: Well, a lot of the same ingredients that cause devastating wildfire seasons in the U.S. It was a warmer and drier spring than normal across most of Canada. That means drier soils, more flammable plants. Then here in eastern Canada, there was this major lightning storm - a couple of them - that started a lot of these fires in extremely remote areas. And I want to stress that, Ari, because no joke, I'll have probably driven about 11 hours today by the time the day is done, and I still - I don't think I'll probably see a wildfire. These are in super remote areas. And these same conditions that are fueling the fires here in eastern Canada are also happening in western Canada - in British Columbia, Alberta. Both of those regions are more used to these types of big fire events, you know, similar to the western U.S. Here in Quebec, it's kind of like a major firestorm sweeping across Minnesota or Wisconsin or Maine. It's not unheard of, but it's really, really rare.

SHAPIRO: You cover climate change for NPR. Is there a sense of whether that is playing a role in Canada's historic start to its fire season?

ROTT: You know, it's too soon right now to say - to have any attribution science completed. And when I say attribution science, I mean science that looks at the role that climate change plays in a specific event like a wildfire or heat wave or a hurricane. What we can say, though, is that this is exactly the type of event that scientists and the Canadian government, the U.S. government say is going to be more likely as human emissions continue to warm the planet. Wildfire seasons are going to be longer. They're going to be more intense, and we're going to increasingly see wildfires burn in places that they historically didn't. So all of that we're seeing in Canada right now. And I do think it's worth reiterating, Ari, you know, we still are only in June. This is very early in the wildfire season, not only in Canada but across the U.S., all of North America. So, unfortunately, I think it's fair to say that these will not be the last big fires that we find ourselves talking about over the next few months.

SHAPIRO: That's NPR's Nathan Rott in eastern Canada. Thank you.

ROTT: Yeah, thank you, Ari.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Nathan Rott is a correspondent on NPR's National Desk, where he focuses on environment issues and the American West.
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