Quebec’s Port-Cartier maximum security prison evacuated as wildfire burns

MONTREAL (AP) — Wildfires burning in Quebec forced the evacuation of inmates from a maximum security prison, federal corrections officials confirmed Sunday, as favorable winds bolstered efforts to battle a pair of out-of-control blazes north of the city of Port-Cartier.

Correctional Service Canada said the evacuation order was issued Friday and inmates have since been moved to other secure federal correctional facilities.

“To carry out the evacuation, we put measures in place, together with our partners, to maintain the safety and security of our staff, the public, and the offenders in our care and custody,” the agency said in a news release Sunday.

The Port-Cartier Institution has been associated with a number of notorious criminals, including serial killer Robert Pickton, who died in late May after being assaulted at the prison by another inmate.

Officials with the city in the Côte-Nord region announced Friday that it had declared a state of emergency and ordered the evacuation of some 1,000 residents from three specific areas due to the fires.

The province’s forest fire prevention agency, SOPFEU, said Sunday that several fires remained out of control near Port-Cartier and Sept-Îles in eastern Quebec north of the St. Lawrence River, although favorable weather was helping to halt their progression toward the communities.

Port-Cartier’s mayor said that despite the improved conditions, it was still too soon to say when citizens from the three evacuated sectors of town would be allowed to return home.

“The wind is with us,” Alain Thibault said.

Environment Canada issued a special air quality statement for the area, warning of the health risks posed by wildfire smoke. By Sunday afternoon, the federal agency said the smoke was no longer causing poor air quality.

In 2023, Canada experienced a record number of wildfires that caused choking smoke in parts of the U.S. and forced more than 235,000 Canadians to evacuate their communities.