Small towns in Newfoundland face shortages from wildfires
Sarah Smellie, The Canadian Press
SAINT-JEAN, NL — The deputy mayor of a small town in southern Newfoundland says his community is already starving for food as it is still cut off from the rest of the island by the worst wildfires the province has seen in more than 60 year.
Roy Drake estimated on Monday that the three grocery stores in Harbor Breton will run out of food within a day or two. Mr. Drake, who himself owns the smallest of these three grocery stores in this town of about 1,600 people, says that already there is no milk and bread left on his shelves.
In a telephone interview on Monday, he explains that things are starting to get stressful for most residents of his small community. He maintains that Harbor Breton and the municipalities of the region need to be supplied « in a day or two ».
Over the past two weeks, wildfires have forced authorities to intermittently close a 200-kilometre road linking the Trans-Canada Highway to the Connaigre Peninsula, where the small towns of Harbor Breton, Hermitage and Conne Rivière are located. This Route 360 was last open last Thursday, according to regular updates from the Ministry of Forestry.
The provincial government has declared a state of emergency, largely due to smoke and air quality, for the entire area stretching from the Connaigre Peninsula to the Trans-Canada Highway — to the towns of Bishop’s Falls, Grand Falls-Windsor and Botwood.
Nearly 11,000 hectares
Authorities said Saturday that wildfires were still burning in remote areas, but the flames posed no risk to homes or residents.
In a video posted to social media on Saturday evening, Premier Andrew Furey described one of the fires as the largest the province has seen since 1961. On Sunday, the provincial government was reporting four active fires, covering about 10,800 hectares.
The Canadian Red Cross has set up an emergency shelter for people stranded north of the fires in central Newfoundland. The Quebec government sent firefighters and seaplanes to the scene to fight the flames on the island.
For those stranded south of the Connaigre Peninsula fires, the provincial Department of Transportation has secured the services of a ferry to begin bringing supplies to stranded communities by sea and to help people get away.
This ferry should arrive on Tuesday, but Deputy Mayor Drake reminds that the boat will dock in the nearby town of Hermitage, which is also already in need of supplies, and which is still about fifty kilometers from Harbor Breton.
David Neil, meteorologist in charge of warning preparedness at Environment Canada, said the fires were started on July 24 by lightning, amid an abnormally hot and dry summer on the island. « This is a very unique situation, » he said, though he was hesitant to attribute it directly to climate change.
Neil said about ten millimeters of rain was forecast for the region on Tuesday. « It’s not much, but at least it should help the teams trying to contain the flames. »
Federal New Democrat Leader Jagmeet Singh said in a statement Monday that the fires are proof Justin Trudeau’s Liberals need to do more to fight climate change.