Nfld. & Labrador

Supplies dwindling in southern Newfoundland towns cut off by forest fire

Communities including Harbour Breton and the Miawpukek First Nation are watching their store shelves closely, as a raging forest fire keeps the main supply route into the region closed.

Harbour Breton facing shortage of fresh foods, baby items

Smoke from a forest fire in central Newfoundland is shown in a government handout photo Sunday. The rapid growth of a long-burning forest fire in central Newfoundland has triggered a state of emergency in the area and prompted Premier Andrew Furey to urge some nearby communities to prepare for possible evacuation. (Government of Newfoundland and Labrador/The Canadian Press)

Supplies are starting to run low in some southern Newfoundland communities, as a pair of out-of-control forest fires continue to rage in the region. 

One of those fires has forced the ongoing closure of the Bay d'Espoir Highway — the only road in and out of the Coast of Bays region.

After four straight days of closure, everything from fresh milk and produce to bread, chicken and baby supplies are starting to run low. So is gasoline.

"People are getting stressed, they're getting anxious," said Harbour Breton Mayor Roy Drake on Monday.

The town is the southern terminus of the highway, and the last time the road was open was Thursday. On top of stranding travellers on both sides of the fire — including people trying to get home, to work and to medical appointments — the closure has shut down the region's most critical supply line.

"You can see that on social media, people reaching out to each other for accommodations or water or food, diapers and baby formula and everything," he said.

There are a number of small communities peppered over the region, all of them ultimately connected to the rest of Newfoundland by Route 360, a highway running from the south of the peninsula north to the Trans-Canada Highway near Grand Falls-Windsor, where many people do the bulk of their shopping.

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.
Flames and smoke can be seen from a forest fire burning along the Bay d'Espoir highway. (Submitted by Mallory Slade)

The Newfoundland and Labrador government has put the Sound of Islay ferry into service to help assist travellers and residents affected by the ongoing state of emergency. The vessel is running from Lewisporte to Fortune, bringing supplies into the region and taking travellers and their vehicles out. 

The province says the Sound of Islay should arrive in Fortune — south across Fortune Bay from Harbour Breton — on Tuesday, though Drake said he's not sure whether the supplies it brings will be adequate at that point.

"The ferry is going to help, but it's not going to help like we need," he said.

"As each day goes by, supplies will run lower and lower," he said. But Drake said it will help stretch the available resources, and buy time for the weather to help fire crews beat back the Bay d'Espoir fire.

Drake said they're also drawing up plans to have a coast guard helicopter bring in supplies.

Flying in baby formula

Meanwhile, about an hour north and then west of Harbour Breton, along the same Route 360, the Miawpukek First Nation, also known as Conne River, is flying in some essentials. 

"Our biggest concern was our young infants and children, for formula, diapers, wipes, and food like that because our local supplier doesn't have an abundance of that on hand," said Rod Jeddore, general manager of the First Nation.

Like other Connaigre Peninsula communities, Jeddore said a lot of people in Miawpukek depend on Grand Falls-Windsor for that kind of shopping. 

Stocks were running low, and Jeddore said they were grateful when the Miawpukek Horizon company offered to fly in baby supplies on a float plane.

Jeddore said some of their fuel supplies are lower than they'd like, and the gas station owned by the band is selling fuel only for emergency purposes at this point, but in general their store shelves are doing all right. 

But Jeddore said they're still making contingency plans, including asking their partners in the commercial fishing industry if they can use some of their vessels to deliver supplies to the reserve.

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