The Newfoundland and Labrador government has declared a state of emergency in parts of central Newfoundland as wildfires continue to rage.
The state of emergency covers the Grand Falls-Windsor, Bishop’s Falls and Connaigre Peninsula areas.
In a video statement posted to social media on Saturday evening, Premier Andrew Furey called it Newfoundland’s worst fire situation since 1961 and said that while the fires are not currently threatening communities, “the wind is changing and the smoke distribution pattern will change dramatically.”
“It’s a dynamic situation,” he said, accompanied in the video by Forestry Minister Derek Bragg and Incident Commander Jason Glode.
Furey said he has asked the Central Health Region to create an evacuation plan for its hospitals, long-term care homes and personal care homes should the need arise, and people living in affected communities should also be on alert for a possible evacuation.
“We don’t want to cause panic, but we have to act responsibly given the current threat level,” he said.
In a tweet on Saturday evening, federal Emergency Preparedness Minister Bill Blair said he had approved the Newfoundland and Labrador government’s request for help from the Canadian Forces. Blair said staff will help “plan and coordinate evacuation and relocation operations from affected areas.”
I have approved a request for federal assistance from @GovNL in response to active wildfires in the province. Our staff @CanadianForces will work with provincial and municipal authorities to plan and coordinate evacuation and relocation operations from affected areas.
Fires in central Newfoundland have been burning for two weeks, and the largest, near the Bay of Hope Highway, has forced the continued closure of the only road in and out of the Connaigre peninsula.
In Saturday night’s video statement, Bragg said officials were concerned that given forecasted weather conditions, this fire could combine with another nearby fire in Paradise Lake.
“We can see the fire travel up to 10 kilometers,” Glode said. “That puts us about 10 to 15 miles from Grand Falls-Windsor, and our main concern would be smoke, but also hot embers and ash and anything that falls on properties.”
Sunday afternoon in central Newfoundland, temperatures could reach a high of 28°C and winds could blow up to 35 kilometers per hour.
Glode is asking residents of affected communities to “fire smartly” their properties – including cutting grass, cleaning up mulch and any flammable material around their property and trimming trees leaning against their homes.
Glode said crews are building a firebreak along the province’s transmission lines.
“That’s our line of defense in terms of affected communities, should the fire reach that point,” he said.
Environment Canada has issued an air quality statement for northeast Newfoundland, including Grand Falls-Windsor, Clarenville, the Bonavista Peninsula and the Terra Nova region.