‘We were afraid’: Resident describes evacuation from Chibougamau amid wildfire threat

“We are afraid, at the same time, we have the hope that everything will be fine," says Marie-Gabrielle Tacka, among the 7,000 Chibougamau residents that evacuated due to the threat of wildfires Tuesday. Alyssia Rubertucci reports.

Marie-Gabrielle Tacka was shaking when she heard the news.

The Chibougamau resident was told to pack up and leave Tuesday night due to the threat of wildfires.

Some 7,300 residents of the municipality in northern Quebec were told to evacuate after a state of emergency was declared.

“I went to pack up my stuff, shaking, an indescribable experience,” Tacka told CityNews.

“We are afraid. At the same time, we have the hope that everything will be fine.”

Quebec wildfires: Chibougamau declares state of emergency, orders evacuations

With the fire advancing much faster onto the town than previously expected, officials determined a municipality-wide evacuation was necessary.

“When the owner told me we had to evacuate, I was panicked,” recalled Tacka. “I was scared and automatically started thinking about California wildfires. But we were immediately reassured. We were told that the fires were far enough. It was a precautionary measure with smoke in the air.

“The sky was downright yellow. We could see the smoke in the distance. We could see a kind of blue colour, like that at the level of the forests.”

The overnight evacuation took its toll on some of the residents. They fled to safety to Roberval, about 250 kilometres south of Chibougamau.

What is usually a journey that takes less than three hours actually took eight hours, with Tacka and others stuck in a seemingly endless lineup of traffic.

“There were hundreds and hundreds of cars,” she said.

Evacuees from Chibougamau are expected to remain in Roberval until at least Saturday. Tacka was set up with a cot in the Roberval arena – one of 450 set up there.

She says despite the stress, it’s been a positive experience since arriving to Roberval.

“There was the mayor of the city waiting for us, who welcomed us each individually and when it’s like that, you feel so good that the fatigue you accumulated during the trip, it really warms the heart to know that the first leaders of our municipality are thinking of us, about our safety and our well-being,” said Tacka.

Marie-Gabrielle Tacka at the evacuation centre in Roberval. (Submitted by: Marie-Gabrielle Tacka)

The number of evacuees from multiple municipalities is rising in Quebec – expected to reach 15,000 by end-of-day Wednesday.

Quebec’s forest fire prevention agency is reporting just under 150 forest fires burning, with nearly 100 deemed out of control. Roughly 457,000 hectares of Quebec forest has burned so far.

Tacka has remained hopeful throughout the entire ordeal.

“I asked one of the gentlemen from the town hall who said the fire was still far, 25 kilometres from the town,” she said. “So there really was no concern. And then we hope it will rain. If it rains, it will help us.”

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