A team of ten members of the Forest Action Group and a sergeant in the Operational General Subdirectorate of the Generalitat de Catalunya Fire Service are in Quebec to help with the work involved in extinguishing the forest fires that are affecting this province of Canada. The expedition will be part of a convoy of 97 troops from all over Spain who have also responded to the Government of Quebec's request for international assistance. The charter flight, organised by the Canadian authorities, will stop in Portugal to pick up the Portuguese firefighters who are joining the international assistance effort.
This request for assistance was made through the FAST (Forest Fires Assessment and Advisory Team). The FAST was set up within the European Civil Protection Mechanism to assist countries that have historically never experienced such severe forest fires. Other countries in addition to Spain and Portugal are sending aid convoys, including France, Chile, the United States and Costa Rica.
Quebec, Alberta, British Columbia and Ontario are the provinces currently most severely affected by the fires, and the short-term weather forecast suggests that the wave of fires could spread to other parts of the country. As of Sunday, the Canadian authorities had counted 426 active fires (134 of which were in Quebec). Of these, 207 were advancing unchecked all over the country. The fires are a threat to critical infrastructure, and have led to the evacuation of some 20,000 people – more than half of them in Quebec.
A level 5 alert, which is the highest on the scale, has been activated all over Canada. The country's health authorities have expressed concern about the effects of smoke from the fires on the population, and on at-risk groups in particular. For example, the situation in Edmonton, the capital of Alberta, is already one of high risk according to the Government.
More than 3.7 million hectares have so far burned across Canada in this series of fires; however, more than 4.6 million hectares have burned across the country since 1 January, according to Canadian Interagency Forest Fire Centre. 2023 has been the country's worst year for forest fires this century.
Advice and firefighting
The assistance provided by the Generalitat de Catalunya fire service will be twofold: first, direct firefighting in the areas where they are instructed to do so by the Pompièrs du Québec commanders. Second, monitoring the fires which the Forest Action Group is dealing with, and advising on the most effective strategies to fight them. The Catalan expedition will stay in Quebec for two weeks, but it may stay longer depending on how the fires develop. The most seriously affected areas in the region are Abitibi-Témiscamingue, North Shore, Mauricie, Quebec Nord and Saguenay-Lac-Saint-Jean.
This is not the first time that the Generalitat's firefighters have helped to extinguish large forest fires beyond the country's borders. The Forest Action Group assisted in the series of fires in Portugal in the summer of 2017 and last February, a team of sub-inspectors from the Group and air units went to Chile, which also experienced a severe episode of simultaneous forest fires, affecting more than 223,000 hectares in just three days. 24 people lost their lives, and more than 1,000 were injured.