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Wildfire Forces Evacuation of Quebec Maximum-Security Prison Where Bernardo and Pickton Were Held

The maximum-security prison in Port-Cartier, Que., which has been home to some of Canada’s most notorious murderers, including Robert Pickton and Paul Bernardo, has been evacuated as out-of-control forest fires rage in the region.

More than 200 inmates at the Port-Cartier Institution were “successfully moved” to other secure federal correctional facilities after an evacuation order was issued for the City of Port-Cartier last week, Correctional Service Canada said in a June 23 press release.

“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 press release says.

The prison has housed some of Canada’s most high-profile convicted criminals, including Ontario serial rapist and killer Paul Bernardo, and B.C. serial killer Robert Pickton, who died last month after being attacked by a fellow inmate at the prison.

It also has also been home to Russell Williams, the disgraced former airbase commander convicted of murdering two women and sexually assaulting others, and Luka Rocco Magnotta, who was convicted of first-degree murder for the 2012 killing and dismemberment of Concordia University student Jun Lin.

Both Mr. Bernardo and Mr. Magnotta have since been relocated to medium-security detention centres to serve out the remainder of their life sentences.

Correctional Service Canada did not say where the 225 inmates were moved or how long the prison is expected to remain under evacuation orders.

“The safety of our staff, inmates, and the public will continue to remain our top priority,” the agency said.

The institution, located approximately 500 kilometres northeast of Quebec City, is currently closed to all visitors, personnel, contractors, and volunteers, the press release said, adding that victims’ families have been notified about the evacuation.

The prison evacuation comes after parts of the city of Port-Cartier were ordered to evacuate, forcing roughly 1,000 residents to leave their homes.

Mayor Alain Thibault declared a state of emergency June 21, advising residents in the Parc Brunel and Parc Dominique Park areas, as well as those living north of Route 138, to evacuate the region immediately, according to a social media post.

Mr. Thibault said June 22 that the state of emergency was being extended to five days and described the evacuation of residents from specific neighbourhoods as quick and efficient. Evacuees are being given temporary shelter in Baie-Comeau, a city located approximately 170 kilometres southwest of the endangered region.

Those who have left their homes will receive financial assistance to help cover expenses associated with the evacuation, Premier Francois Legault announced June 22.

“We approved this afternoon at a special council of ministers the payment of compensation of $1,500 per evacuated residence,” he said in a social media post. “Be careful. Fires threaten communities. Please follow the instructions of the authorities.”

Isabelle Gariépy, communications officer for provincial forest-fighting agency SOPFEU (Société de Protection des Forêts Contre le Feu), said water bombers are working to put out the flames and firefighters will have a heavy workload over the next few days.

Three of the four fires in the Sept-Rivières region surrounding Port-Cartier are considered out of control, including one west of the city of Sept-Îles. All of the fires were caused by lightning strikes.

Ms. Gariépy said the region is very dry and faces an extreme fire risk, adding that warmer weather could cause the flames to spread.

The Canadian Press contributed to this report.

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