07/05/2013 04:24 EDT | Updated 09/04/2013 05:12 EDT

State of emergency lifted after rain douses Quebec forest fires

Officials say rain and shifting winds have answered the hopes of hundreds of displaced Quebecers who were forced to leave their homes because of major forest fires.

"We're lifting the state of emergency. We want to bring our people home," said George Cheezo, public safety officer for the northern community of Eastmain, near James Bay.

The fires, which started last month, spread across more than 350,000 hectares of land in northern Quebec. Lightning sparked new forest fires on Friday morning near the northern Quebec Cree community of Wemindji.

Earlier in the day, Premier Pauline Marois said the province would do everything it could to help out.

"We are working on this issue. The first [thing] that is important to us is the protection of the population," Marois said.

Last week, about 300 people — pregnant women, children, seniors and people at risk — left their homes in Eastmain and moved to hotels in Val d'Or as a precautionary measure. Cheezo said he expects all residents will be back in their homes by Saturday.

Unprecedented fires extend for 100 kilometres

The fires, which stretched for about 100 kilometres, were called unprecedented by Quebec's forest fire protection agency, la Société de protection des forêts contre le feu (SOPFEU), as well as Quebec Civil Security and Hydro Québec.

Jacques Viger, the head of civil protection for Abitibi-Témiscamingue and Northern Quebec, said he couldn't remember ever seeing such extensive fires in the region.

"Year after year we have fires in the North, but not as big as this one," he said.

Other regions of Quebec have been affected by the fires, including Montreal, where smog created by the smoke sat over the city for several days.

In the community of Eastmain, life is returning to normal.

"Everything will settle down," Cheezo said.