In central Newfoundland, people say they are ready – but not panicked – as the fires continue to burn


Charlotte Foster says the state of emergency in Grand Falls-Windsor is nerve-wracking. (Darrell Roberts/CBC)

Charlotte Foster was camping Saturday when she learned her town of Grand Falls-Windsor was in a state of emergency.

« I came straight home to pack everything just in case, because you never know if the tide might turn, » Foster told CBC News in an interview on Monday.

For weeks, two wildfires have been burning out of control near Bishop’s Falls and Grand Falls-Windsor. The fires intensified over the weekend, in part due to hot, dry and windy conditions – and also the unpredictability of fire behavior.

It’s this uncertain situation that Foster calls unnerving.

« A lot of anxiety. A lot of anxiety, » she said. « At the same time, we have to keep calm and everything, right? I hope everything will be fine, » she said.

The Newfoundland and Labrador government declared a state of emergency for Bishop’s Falls, Grand Falls-Windsor and the Connaigre Peninsula on Saturday, and added the town of Botwood on Sunday.

« It’s super scary »

Madison Antle, who lives in Bishop’s Falls, said she had conversations with friends and family about where to go if they had to flee. If an evacuation order comes, she’ll head to the east mantle of the island to stay with friends.

« The winds change all the time, so people are really on their toes and they don’t know what to expect, » she said. « It’s super scary. »

A person stands on a grassy bank in front of a body of water.  They are wearing a black sweater with the word "fashion" in white on the front.
Madison Antle says she’s ready to go to the east coast of Newfoundland and stay with friends if an evacuation order comes through. (Darrell Roberts/CBC)

Antle is moving to Toronto for school this fall, but said she’s ready to leave early if needed.

Grand Falls-Windsor resident Alan Noftall said the situation started to get real after watching Premier Andrew Furey’s state of emergency announcement on Saturday night. In the video, posted to social media, Furey described the fires as the worst the province has seen since 1961 and said an evacuation order was not imminent, but people should be prepared to leave. at any time.

Noftall said residents of Grand Falls-Windsor were nervous.

« I think people are in disbelief, » he said. « We’ve had fires near the community before, but nothing that major. »

A person wearing glasses and a baseball cap sits in a red car holding the steering wheel.
Alan Noftall says he hopes the wildfire situation improves, but he is ready to head to the west coast of the island. (Darrell Roberts/CBC)

Noftall said he had packed his bags and knew where he would go if he had to go – « as they say, ‘go west young man' ».

« Pretty good shape »

In Bishop’s Falls, Bill Milley said the community is doing relatively well and coming together to help. He is a member of the local Lions Club, which is working to raise funds and help travelers stranded by the ongoing closure of the Bay d’Espoir highway.

A person wearing glasses stands in front of trees.
Bill Milley is a member of the Bishop’s Falls Lions Club, which helps travelers stranded due to the Bay d’Espoir highway closure. (Katie Breen/CBC)

The road, a vital link to the Connaigre Peninsula, was closed for a fourth straight day on Monday, with officials warning that a pair of fires near the highway and Paradise Lake had developed – although they did not merge, as feared over the weekend. Central Health moved some long-term care patients and residents over the weekend due to heavy smoke, which also hampered firefighting efforts.

But there was good news for the region on Monday – Environment Canada lifted its air quality warning as winds shifted, blowing smoke from cities. There is also a small amount of rain forecast for Tuesday.

« We’re just blessed, I guess, » Milley said. « Someone is watching over us – and it’s not me. »

Milley said he could be ready to leave at any time, but hopes it doesn’t come to that.

« We don’t feel any threat here at Bishop’s from the fire. Only the smoke is the problem, » he said.

Milley said he hopes the tide will turn on firefighting and communities can get back to normal.

« I think we’re in pretty good shape right now, and I can only see it getting better in the coming days. »

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