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Firefighters in Canada are spread thin because of the hundreds of wildfires

A MARTÍNEZ, HOST:

Another round of smoke from Canadian wildfires is drifting south, blanketing parts of the Midwest and headed for the East Coast.

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

Millions of Americans will wake up this morning to hazy and in some places hazardous skies. Around 450 wildfires are currently burning across Canada, which is experiencing a particularly early and intense fire season.

MARTÍNEZ: NPR's Nathan Rott is in Quebec.

Nate, how close are you to some of those wildfires?

NATHAN ROTT, BYLINE: Well, A, I am learning that close is a relative term in the province of Quebec. I'm in a city called Val-d'Or, which is in the western part of the province, about a six-hour drive north of Montreal. And there is a cluster of major wildfires burning a ways north from here, like, a couple more hours. But only firefighting personnel are being allowed into those areas right now currently, and despite some rain over the last couple of days, it's kind of unclear when that's going to change and when those roads will open up.

MARTÍNEZ: Yeah, and considering the amount of smoke that's drifting across the border, I mean, the wildfires have got to be intense and got to be massive.

ROTT: Yeah, they are huge. I mean, here in Quebec, the amount of land that's burnt is already 10 times what they would normally see an entire year. And, you know, as you said, we're still really early in the season, only in mid-June. I was talking to a fire information officer, Melanie Morin, here yesterday at one of their bases, and she said that the scale of this is really complicating things nationally, is because there are so many fires burning in so many provinces at the exact same time.

MELANIE MORIN: And that's what's not common. And it has limited us being able to help each other within provinces. And that is one of the reasons why many of the agencies have had to go internationally for help.

ROTT: So typically, A, Canadian firefighters move around from region to region in the summer to help out when a place pops off, pretty similar to how we do it in the U.S. But right now, with so much fire, they're spread really thin.

MARTÍNEZ: And Melanie mentioned international help. Where are the firefighters coming from?

ROTT: All over the place - I mean, New Zealand, South Africa, France. A bunch of teams came in earlier this week from Portugal, Spain and the U.S. I actually went to meet two U.S.-based hotshot crews at the airport here in Val-d'Or yesterday, hotshots being the creme de la creme of U.S. ground crews. And for one of the 20-person teams from Helena, Mont., this was already their second Canadian deployment this year. I asked their acting superintendent, Tighe Stoyanoff, what the biggest difference was fighting fires here versus the U.S. - you know, besides the obvious language barrier, which he said they've been using apps to address - and he said access in these dense, remote boreal forests has been a real issue.

TIGHE STOYANOFF: It's challenging to move around in and challenging to see where the fire is, challenging to see a quarter-mile sometimes. So they use aviation assets pretty heavily - scoopers and helicopters. Helicopters are almost like pickup trucks up here.

ROTT: And scoopers are fixed-wing aircraft, airplanes that literally scoop water from lakes or big bodies of water and then dump them on the fires.

MARTÍNEZ: Given, though, the remoteness of these fires, is it safe to say that they're going to be burning for a while?

ROTT: Yeah, absolutely. I mean, we're still early in the summer. I've heard some people say that they expect these fires to burn until it starts snowing, which to be clear, A, as you know, being in California - that's not necessarily bad. Fire is a part of a lot of these landscapes. The concern, though, is that this has happened so intensely, so early in the season and that it's going to continue here for a while.

MARTÍNEZ: All right. That's NPR's Nathan Rott in Quebec.

Wear a mask, Nate.

ROTT: Yeah. I appreciate it, A. 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.

A Martínez is one of the hosts of Morning Edition and Up First. He came to NPR in 2021 and is based out of NPR West.
Nathan Rott is a correspondent on NPR's National Desk, where he focuses on environment issues and the American West.