Labrador cabin owners devastated by forest fires

Residents of western Labrador have had their worst fears confirmed about the extent of damage from recent forest fires.

Crews fighting an extra 3,000 hectares this week

Cabin owners in western Labrador are reeling from losses, reports Kate Adach 2:17

Residents of western Labrador have had their worst fears confirmed about the extent of damage from forest fires that have wrought havoc in the area for more than two weeks.

The Department of Natural Resources says crews are fighting an extra 3,000 hectares this week — compared to last week.

Officials have pushed the fires away from Wabush, allowing cabin owners the opportunity to check on properties.

Neil Simmons and his wife had just sold their cabin to their son days before the fire broke out, and had not yet moved out some of their goods.

Neil Simmons: 'That's the way she goes — men make plans and God laughs.' (CBC)

"I hadn't taken out our mementos or our things and he had time to fill it with all of his, and that's the way she goes — men make plans and God laughs," Simmons told CBC News.

About two dozen cabins in an area known as Blueberry Hill were reduced to ash in the fire, which is requiring the full attention of air and ground crews. Wabush Mayor Ron Barron said the fire is still out of control, and that the town's state of emergency remains in effect.

Carl Simmons, who toured the site with his parents on Tuesday, said he could not get over what he saw.

"You couldn't see five feet into the woods," he said describing the former site. "It was just thick, green trees everywhere." he said.

Labrador fire area

Use your mouse to hover over the graphic to see a detailed view; the red areas mark where fires have been burning in western Labrador 

Neil Simmons said the family could not obtain insurance for the cabin, meaning that the loss will hurt the pocketbook as deeply as the heart.

"It was liked getting cleaved with an axe, you know — all the memories, all the monetary value of it," he said. "It was a blow."  

Paul Foss, who also owned a cabin in Blueberry Hill, said there are already plans to rebuild, even though officials are warning people to stay away from the charred area because of concerns about toxins.

Foss said people in the community are showing support.

"I've had friends already approach and offer windows and doors and chainsaws and generators," said Foss.

"I'm very thankful for all those people's [offers] and friendships that we've made over the years here in Labrador," he said.

Foss said cabin owners are already talking about replanting trees in the burnt-over area.  

Wabush Mayor Ron Barron, who has a cabin in one of the affected areas, advises cabin owners to stay away, adding the burned sites are full of toxic hazards.

"[It's] very fortunuate that my cabin is still there, but I lost everything around it ... my shed, everything like that, so I'm in the same boat as everybody," said Barron.

"I'd love to go down and see, you know the damage that's caused around my cabin — but you have to stay out folks, it's not safe to be in there yet."

Rain badly needed

Department of Natural Resources spokesperson Eric Earle said with extra hectares being fought, the fire situation is far from over.

"We are making progress, but it's difficult to say, 'We've got 65 hot spots today when [it was] 400 hot spots last week,'" said Earle.

"We need some rain, that's the bottom line."

Earle said the biggest challenge crews are facing are areas that are inaccessible by road.

"We want to lessen the impact of this on people. No one wants the fire to be out as much as we do — but we have to focus on safety."

Mall offering some relief for western Labrador residents

Labrador City officials say a plan is underway to help area residents get relief from thick smoke in the air.

Mayor Karen Oldford said the smoke on Wednesday is coming from the fire near Wabush and from fires in Quebec.

Oldford said some people's homes have become unbearable.

"When you close all your windows and doors and turn off your air exchangers — houses and apartments and trailers can get quite hot and uncomfortable," Oldford said.

"So we're actually working with the Labrador Mall, and the management there, to have cooling stations set up, so people can go and get a break from the heat of their homes."