Nfld. & Labrador

Help on the way, but central Newfoundland forest fires expected to 'grow significantly'

Three large wildfires in central Newfoundland are continuing to burn out of control, causing havoc for provincial resources as fire crews have been battling the blazes for nearly two weeks.

Fires expected to burn cabins, says Forestry Minister Derrick Bragg

A river runs through burned-out areas of forest.
Multiple large forest fires are continue to burn in central Newfoundland. (Fisheries, Forestry and Agriculture Department/Twitter)

Three large 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 Friday he had been in contact with the federal government to ask for help if it's needed.

Federal Emergency Preparedness Minister Bill Blair tweeted shortly before 3 p.m. NT that he had spoken with provincial Public Safety Minister John Hogan about the active fires and said the federal government "stands ready to support the province as they manage the situation."

Hot weather and high winds have kept the fires going, stranding travellers on 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 the fires are "extremely active" and it isn't safe to have fire crews on the ground.

"[Water] bombers have been able to do some work but the head of the fires are very volatile so they're not able to get at them," Glode said.

"They've grown significantly in size and they're going to continue to grow significantly in size today, tomorrow and into the next day."

The amount of smoke and the size of all three fires are making it difficult to keep track of just how much ground the fires are covering. 

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 hectares earlier in the week to about 1,500 to 2,000 hectares on Friday. A hectare is 10,000 square metres.

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

The third fire in the region, near Southern Lake, has grown from about 80 hectares at the outset to about 170 hectares on Friday, and it's still getting larger.

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

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

"With the amount of smoke and material that's being thrown off them our concern is also with any hot material that may be falling down from the sky."

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

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

"At this point we're no longer able to get in there and once the fire clears enough that we can get in, we'll do an assessment of any damage."

Forestry Minister Derrick Bragg said one cabin has already burned down, witnessed during a flyover on Friday. He said he also saw smoke from other cabins.

"There will be more than one cabin burned out of this," Bragg said. 

Resources spread thin

On Wednesday, Newfoundland and Labrador acquired the help of three aircraft and seven fire crew members from Quebec. One spotting plane has already arrived and two water bombers are expected to be in Gander by 4 p.m. on Friday. The resources and crew members will stick around for about a week to help push back the fires.

The situation over the last two weeks has been tough on provincial resources as flare-ups have kept crews busy while hot weather persists. 

Just after 6 p.m. the department announced a fire ban, prohibiting the setting of fires on forest land or within 300 metres of forest land in central and eastern Newfoundland. The ban is in effect between the hours of midnight on Saturday to midnight on Aug. 16.

"That's as a precaution because we right now have all of our resources in central. We cannot afford any flareup anywhere else, to be honest," Bragg said.

"We have skeleton teams left throughout the province."

Glode said reopening the Bay d'Espoir Highway is the goal but safety remains a priority. 

"If the crews determine that we're able to open it with tanker support and helicopters, we will do so. But right now given the fire, weather, behaviour and that kind of stuff it's like we'd have to roll [with it]," he said.

"It will not open today, it may not open tomorrow, so everybody needs to be ready that [the closure] could be extended for a long period of time."

The Canadian Red Cross and Salvation Army are delivering emergency services for people stranded on the Trans-Canada Highway because of the closure.

The Red Cross is also co-ordinating emergency lodging for people who live in the areas affected by the highway closure.

A congregate shelter has been set up at the Salvation Army Citadel in Grand Falls-Windsor. The shelter can be accessed any time after 6 p.m. Friday.

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

With files from Peter Cowan

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