“We saved a catastrophe”: Quebec almost experienced a nightmare like the deadly Hawaiian forest fire, according to the Minister of Public Security, François Bonnardel

The evacuation of 13,000 citizens of Nord-du-Québec during the historic fires of last June caused a lot of tension up to the top of the State, but it made it possible to avoid the worst.

“We saved maybe 1 or 2 disasters. The cocktail was perfect for us to experience in Quebec a situation like perhaps Hawaii,” said the Minister of Public Security, François Bonnardel, speaking of the fire which caused hundreds of deaths in the American state in last August.

Two months earlier, while fires were raging in several regions of Quebec, the team of I was able to accompany the minister on his trips and fly over some of the fires that threatened villages.

The Minister of Public Security, François Bonnardel, in discussion with a pilot of an air tanker used to extinguish forest fires last June.

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On the evening of June 6, the town of Chibougamau, in Jamésie, declared a state of emergency and asked its 7,500 residents to evacuate.

The next morning at 6:30 a.m., the evacuation was still in progress. It was a short night for the Minister of Public Safety.

His chief of staff, Pierre Tremblay, was already there.

“We’re going to have a big day,” he says to Minister François Bonnardel. “There are around a hundred people who don’t want to leave Chibougamau. Ask people to collaborate, François,” he adds before the minister begins his rounds of media interviews.


The fire that threatened Chibougamau was then only 10 kilometers from the town. The flames were also at the gates of the nearby Cree village of Mistissini, but the community refused to evacuate.

Forest fires threatened certain communities in Northern Quebec throughout the summer, particularly during the month of June.


Prime Minister François Legault then entered into an emergency briefing on 6e floor of the Ministry of Public Security on Laurier Boulevard in Quebec. He quickly moved on to the evacuation of the Mistissini reserve.

“Yesterday morning we said “We must evacuate” according to SOPFEU, then the chief [de Mistissini] said “I don’t evacuate” so I know that I’m going to be apostrophized later,” he said.

“There was a mistake, can we hear each other?” If we try to play politics with journalists there… I just like to tell them the truth, there was an error yesterday by SOPFEU,” he concluded dryly.



At the end of the day, François Bonnardel took the road to Roberval where the evacuees from Chibougamau are housed. There he met his mayor, Manon Cyr, who was out of her depth.

“I have citizens who tell me “Manon, the fire didn’t happen”. I tell them, “But I don’t want to see the fire. We’re evacuating you just in case. The goal is not to see it, it’s not a campfire” says the mayor.

The mayor of Chibougamau, Manon Cyr, during a meeting in Roberval with Public Security during the evacuations in June.

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The team of I then took a seat on the plane which brought the elected official and part of the municipal council back to Chibougamau.

At city hall, only the city council, police officers and a few employees remained. They were trying to plan for the return of the evacuated population. The team was hanging on the lips of François Legault who announced that the Chibougamois will have to wait several more days before returning.

“Tabarn**!” » rails a counselor. “The evacuation order was given by the City. The reinstatement order will be given by the City,” adds another alderman.

The mayor then intervened. “He’s the prime minister, there’s a reason he says that. Calms you. »

“It’s not an exact science,” admitted François Legault, called upon to return to this episode in recent weeks. “There is no perfect answer. There is no manual. »

The JE team was able to accompany a team of forest firefighters in the field.

Photo Denis Therriault QMI Agency


Elected officials from Nord-du-Québec believe they were victims of pressure from paper companies who wanted to keep the forest “open” at the height of the forest fires.

“We at the MRC, we are being contacted by Tembec which is Chibougamau trail, they want to go and fly over with the SOPFEU team, the possibility of seeing the inventory, the recovery, the planning. They insist a lot,” said the director general of the Abitibi-Ouest Regional County Municipality, Normand Lagrange.

“Access to the forest, when you look at the map, the map is still very red. It’s one step at a time,” stormed Minister Bonnardel during an express visit to Abitibi-Témiscamingue.


Quebec tried everything possible to prevent CN trains from running in areas vulnerable to fires, but ran into a complex problem.

On June 6, when the residents of Chibougamau had to urgently evacuate their town, the Ministry of Public Security tried to stop the Canadian National freight trains.

“Why didn’t we slow them down? » asks the irritated minister to the members of the crisis unit gathered in Quebec.

“We had discussions with the Ministry of Transport for this purpose and they brought together the rail transport association for this purpose to mention to them the closure of the forest and that there were reasons for that” , replied Jean Savard, director of operations at the General Directorate of Civil Security.

CN trains were blamed for the Lytton, British Columbia wildfires in 2021 and the Timmins, Ontario wildfire in 2012. In both cases, CN refuted the accusations.


The cloud of smoke coming from Quebec which enveloped New York at the beginning of June forced the Americans to increase their aid to Canada.

“President Biden spoke to Prime Minister Trudeau and Bill Blair, Minister of Civil Security of the federal government, contacted me and he said to me “François the Americans are ready to help us again. What is Quebec requires ?” » Confided François Bonnardel in an interview.

“When the smoke reached New York, it was perhaps a coincidence, but the Prime Minister sent firefighters and therefore help from the United States,” adds François Legault.

New York City was engulfed in smoke from Canada’s wildfires.

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Since the start of the forest fire season on Canadian territory, the United States has deployed more than 1,500 firefighters, according to the United States Ambassador to Canada, David Cohen.


The Nordic Kraft factory in Lebel-sur-Quévillon is at the heart of the government’s concerns as fire 344 threatened to explode thousands of liters of chemicals stored there.

It was with a serious air that the Prime Minister of Quebec listened to the members of the crisis unit describe the worst scenario to him.

“In the flammables at the factory, there are 2 million liters of fuel oil. There is the equivalent of 10 tanker trucks of liquefied natural gas, therefore propane,” says Deputy Minister of Public Security Marc Croteau.

The 2000 inhabitants of this town in Jamésie have been evacuated for several days.

“I was told at one point, ‘The Nordic Kraft factory is at risk… If only because of that, we have to keep the world evacuated,’” recalls François Legault.

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