Out of control fires worry Newfoundland towns as crisis enters third week

Two massive wildfires burning in central Newfoundland near the Bay d’Espoir highway and Paradise Lake were still out of control Monday morning, after growing significantly over the weekend.

A state of emergency was declared Saturday evening in the Grand Falls-Windsor, Bishop’s Falls and Connaigre Peninsula areas and extended to the Botwood area on Sunday. Prime Minister Andrew Furey has asked residents to prepare for a possible evacuation.

The Bay of Hope Road, which connects the Connaigre Peninsula on the south coast of Newfoundland to the rest of the island, is still closed and will remain so until further notice.

While officials thought the fires would merge and become one over the weekend, provincial forest fire department officer Jeff Motty said it’s not expected to happen on Monday.

According to remote sensing technology, Motty said the Paradise Lake fire is estimated at 6,614 hectares, while the Bay d’Espoir fire is around 5,273 hectares.

He said in an interview on Monday morning that it is too early to tell whether the fires have intensified further overnight.

Motty said there were still open flames and heavy smoke from the fires, making it difficult to fight the fires.

“Even with water bombers, there was too much smoke to safely get through those fires there yesterday,” Motty told CBC. Newfoundland morning.

A family waits in Bishop’s Falls alongside Salvation Army disaster services volunteers, looking for a clear window to navigate the Bay D’Espoir Highway. (Danny Arsenault/CBC)

Motty said there was positive news as temperatures at the site were expected to be lower on Monday, at around 23C, and winds were expected to be weaker and change direction, blowing from the northwest, Monday after- midday.

Motty said the more favorable weather conditions should push the smoke away from Grand Falls-Windsor and Gander and further east of Newfoundland.

“So communities that have been smoking recently will hopefully get some respite today,” he said.

« Hope to make good progress »

Motty said there were eight water bombers, two dog planes and air attack officers – who will be watching the blaze – ready to battle the flames.

“So as soon as we can light that fire, we hope to make good progress,” Motty said.

Meanwhile, Motty said the Paradise Lake fire is near power lines and jumped one of the lines.

In a statement, Newfoundland and Labrador Hydro said the fire crossed two Bay d’Espoir transmission lines and caused the lines to trip. They said both lines had been restored to power and the trip had not caused any outages for customers.

NL Hydro said the lines have been in reliable service since Saturday, but a fire increases the risk of travel due to smoke and soot.

Meanwhile, Hydro said the fire did not reach the Labrador-Island Link power transmission corridor, which is between the fire and the communities.

The utility said it does not anticipate any power outages for customers on the island.

He said they were using the area around another power line, south of Grand Falls-Windsor, to create a firebreak. He said bulldozers were working along the 30-metre-wide transmission line to dig out and create space in the vegetation to prevent the fire from spreading.

« They’re going to create a 90-meter firewall. So we’re making great progress on that, » he said.

A road, seen from behind the windshield of a vehicle.  The sky is overcast and the air is smoky.  Charred vegetation is visible on the side of the road.
Charred trees and vegetation line parts of the Bay D’Espoir Highway after a large wildfire swept through the area, closing the highway. (Submitted by Alisha Joe)

Motty said Parks Canada also participates in prescribed burns to make firebreaks more effective.

“We have a lot of different strategies between ground crews, air crews, prescribed burns and firewalls that we use to hopefully protect communities from these fires.”

Air Quality Warnings

Meanwhile, Environment Canada meteorologist Rodney Barney said the weather will play a major role in how the fires behave over the next few days.

Environment Canada has issued a special air quality statement extending from Gander to the Bonavista Peninsula as smoke from wildfires reduces air quality.

WATCH | Prime Minister Andrew Furey is telling residents of towns near out-of-control fires to prepare for possible evacuation:

NL declares state of emergency amid worst wildfire situation since 1961

Newfoundland and Labrador has declared a state of emergency following what Premier Andrew Furey called the province’s worst wildfire situation since 1961.

« Luckily the winds are much lower today so it’s generally favorable for firefighters, » Barney said.

He said the winds were gusting to 20 to 40 kilometers per hour, but with dry conditions could still cause the fire to behave erratically.

Meanwhile, Barney is eyeing rain that could flood the province on Tuesday. However, the heaviest rainfall – between 15 and 25 millimeters – is expected over the southern half of the island and towards the Avalon Peninsula, while only 5 to 10 millimeters of rain is forecast for areas where the fires are burning. .

« Not huge amounts for central, but it will definitely help, » Barney said.

While Furey urged people near the fire to be on standby, no evacuation order was given Monday morning.

A bus will evacuate people from Grand Falls-Windsor who are concerned about possible poor air quality caused by wildfires in central Newfoundland at 11 a.m. NT. According to a statement posted on the city’s website, the bus will take passengers to a provincially operated evacuation shelter in Deer Lake. There are pick up points at Joe Byrne Memorial Stadium and Windsor Stadium.

In Bishop’s Falls, residents wishing to leave the area due to possible smoky conditions and poor air quality can meet at the Salvation Army Church or call the town office. they need transportation to the church. The city asks residents to pack essential items like cash, prescription drugs, glasses, a change of clothes and personal effects.

People wishing to leave the area should arrive at muster stations by 10:00 a.m. NT and anyone requiring transportation should contact the fire station, according to the statement.

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