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Montreal has worst air of any major city as wildfires rage

MONTREAL (AFP) – Forest fires in Canada left Montreal blanketed with smog on Sunday, giving it the worst air quality of any major city in the world, according to a pollution monitor.

Quebec province’s most populous city had ‘unhealthy’ air quality according to IQAir, which tracks pollution around the globe, as hundreds of wildfires burned across the country.

Environment Canada issued smog warnings in several Quebec regions due to the fires, saying, “high concentrations of fine particulate matter are causing poor air quality and reduced visibilities”, with conditions to persist.

The agency urged residents to avoid outdoor activities and wear face masks if they must go outside.

Outdoor pools and sports areas have been closed and multiple outside events, including concerts and sports competitions, have been cancelled due to the unhealthy smog.

Montreal’s skyline seen from Jean Drapeau Park. PHOTO: AFP

“It’s really like a fog, except it’s smoke from the forest fires. It’s really hard to breathe, and it stings the eyes a bit too,” said 18-year-old Fauve Lepage Vallee, lamenting that a festival she was due to attend had been cancelled.

There are 80 active forest fires in Quebec, according to Quebec’s forest fire protection agency, SOPFEU, with several growing over the weekend due to dry weather and high temperatures.

“The extent of the smoke is making it particularly difficult for air tankers and helicopters to be effective,” SOPFEU said.

However, “significant amounts” of rain are expected today in the northwest of the province, it added.

Tomorrow, 119 French firefighters are due to arrive in Quebec to relieve a contingent of their compatriots in the field since early June.

“They will also be deployed to Roberval,” 250 kilometres north of Quebec City, for a 21 day mission, said a spokesman for SOPFEU Stephane Caron.