Help on the way, but central Newfoundland wildfires expected to ‘grow significantly’

Written by Javed Iqbal

Image of burnt forest areas with a river running through the middle.
Several large forest fires continue to burn in central Newfoundland. (Minister for Fisheries, Forestry and Agriculture/Twitter)

Three major wildfires in central Newfoundland continue to burn out of control, and the province may need help from the federal government to regain control.

Premier Andrew Furey said on Friday he had been in contact with the federal government to ask for help if needed.

Federal Emergency Management Minister Bill Blair tweeted shortly before 10am. 15 NT that he had spoken with the province’s public safety minister, John Hogan, about the active fires and said the federal government “stands ready to support the province as they deal with the situation.”

Hot weather and high winds have kept the fires burning, stranding travelers at both ends of the Bay d’Espoir Highway as closures due to safety concerns continue to disrupt the region.

Incident Commander Jason Glode told CBC News on Friday that the fires are “extremely active” and it is not safe to have fire crews on the ground.

“[Water] The bombs have been able to do some work, but the heads of the fires are very volatile, so they’re not able to reach them,” Glode said.

“They have grown significantly in size, and they will continue to grow significantly in size today, tomorrow and the next day.”

The amount of smoke and the size of all three fires make it difficult to keep track of how much land the fires cover.

Glode said helicopters can’t navigate through the smoke to get accurate updates, but he guesses the Bay d’Espoir Highway fire has grown from about 1,000 acres earlier in the week to about 1,500 to 2,000 acres by Friday. One hectare is 10,000 square meters.

The Paradise Lake fire, Glode said, started as three fires but has combined into one large fire that he said could cover as much as 4,000 acres by Saturday.

The third fire burning in the region is located near Southern Lake. It has grown from about 80 hectares in the beginning to about 170 hectares on Friday and is still getting bigger.

A photograph taken from the windshield of a pick up truck shows flames along the left side of the highway and another truck ahead of the road.
Mallory Slade and her family drove past flames and smoke as a wildfire burns along the Bay d’Espoir highway. (Submitted by Mallory Slade)

“The biggest concern right now would be smoke. Smoke is going to affect most of the communities north of these fires,” Glode said.

“With the amount of smoke and material being thrown by them, our concern is also with any hot material that may fall from the sky.”

Glode said residents in the area should take preventative measures, such as wetting property and storing fuels properly.

He said some cabins near Paradise Lake are basically on fire. There are about 200 in the area.

“At this point we are no longer able to get in there and once the fire has cleared enough for us to get in we will do an assessment of any damage.”

Forestry Minister Derrick Bragg said there was evidence a cabin had already burned down, which was seen during a flyover on Friday. He said he had also witnessed smoke coming from other cabins.

“There’s going to be more than one cabin burned out of this,” Bragg said.

Resources spread thinly

On Wednesday, Newfoundland and Labrador was assisted by three aircraft and seven fire crews from Quebec. A spotting plane has already arrived and two water bombers are expected to be in Gander by 4pm on Friday. The resources and crew members will stay for about a week to help push the fires back.

The situation over the past two weeks has been tough on the province’s resources as the flare-up has kept crews busy while the hot weather continues.

Bragg, whose department has been leading the fire response since July 24, told CBC News on Friday afternoon that the province was looking at imposing a fire ban on all outdoor fires in the central and eastern regions of the island.

Just after 6 p.m., the department announced the fire ban, which prohibits setting fires on forest land or within 300 meters of forest land in central and eastern Newfoundland. The ban applies between midnight on Saturday and midnight on 16 August.

“It’s like a safety measure because right now we have all our resources centrally. We can’t afford any flare-ups elsewhere, to be honest,” Bragg said.

“We have skeleton teams left across the province.”

As for the reopening of the Bay d’Espoir Highway, Glode said that is the goal, but safety remains a priority.

“If the crews decide we’re able to open it with tanker support and helicopters, we’ll do that. But right now in light of the fire, the weather, the behavior and things like that, it’s like we’re going to have to roll [with it],” he said.

“It won’t open today, it might not open tomorrow, so everyone needs to be ready for it to be extended for a longer period of time.”

The Canadian Red Cross and Salvation Army are providing emergency services to those stranded on the Trans-Canada Highway due to the closure.

The Red Cross is also coordinating emergency accommodation for people living in the areas affected by the Bay d’Espoir motorway closure.

A crisis center has been set up at the Salvation Army Citadel in Grand Falls-Windsor. The shelter can be accessed any time after Friday at 18.00.

Read more articles from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

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Javed Iqbal

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