Residents near Base Gagetown say brush fire smoke 'seriously bad'

Training exercises ignited three fires at CFB Gagetown last week and people in surrounding communities say the smoke is concerning.

3 fires have burned a combined total of 1,026 hectares

Three fires at Base Gagetown have burned more than 1,000 hectares over the past several weeks. (Matthew Bingley/CBC)

Training exercises ignited three fires at Base Gagetown in recent weeks and people in surrounding communities say the smoke is concerning. 

Sunday morning Lucinda Hughey of Fredericton encountered such thick smoke on the drive to Saint John on Highway 7 that she decided to take a different route back.

"It was thickest pretty much from the base all the way up the hill ... all the low-lying areas," said Hughey.

Marian Langhus, who runs a quilt shop in Gagetown, said the smoke was worse in her community a few weeks ago. But the wind can change that.

"We can see them off to the west and fortunately the wind has been in our favour," said Langhus. "We feel at the whimsy of the wind."

Cathy Coombes says the smell of smoke was so bad in her home, she woke up to make sure her house wasn't on fire. (Matthew Bingley/CBC)

At one point on Saturday, the smoke was so thick around Gagetown resident Cathy Coombes' home, she checked to make sure her house wasn't on fire.

"It was seriously bad," said Coombes. "I had to put a wash cloth over my face."

Water bomber called in

Two of the fires have burned a combined total of 1,000 hectares of land, while a third smaller fire has burned 26 hectares.

Fire crews have been on the scene all weekend and will now be assisted by a water bomber from Quebec.

Stéphanie Duchesne, Base Gagetown's public affairs officer, said there is minimal risk to the public as the closest the fire has reached is three kilometres from the edge of the base, with the closest houses being even further.

There is no plan to evacuate the area. 

Duchesne said the fires burning now are flare ups of fires that began several weeks ago.

"Sometimes they're suppressed when weather was good [when] we've had rain, then when it's dry they flare up again," Duchesne said.

Dry few months

New Brunswick has been drier than normal over the past few months.

On average, the base would see 355.6 millimetres of rain between June and September, according to Environment Canada. This year the base only saw 176.5 millimetres, less than half the normal amount.

2017 CFB Gagetown rain totals
CFB GagetownNormal2017
September86.1 mm50 mm
August86.5 mm46.5 mm
July96.9 mm17.5 mm
June86.1 mm62.5 mm
Total355.6 mm176.5 mm

While Duchesne could not go into specifics, she said there will be training restrictions on the base going forward because of the dry weather.

CBC News contacted the Department of Energy and Resources Development for comment, but has yet to receive a response.

With files from Matthew Bingley