Nfld. & Labrador

State of emergency in central Newfoundland extended to Botwood amid forest fires

Air quality in the region continues to deteriorate as forest fires in the region fill the air with smoke.

No evacuation order has been given yet, but premier says to be prepared

N.L. declares state of emergency over worst wildfires in decades

4 months ago
Duration 1:55
Newfoundland and Labrador has declared a state of emergency as a result of what Premier Andrew Furey called the worst wildfire situation in the province since 1961.

The state of emergency in central Newfoundland has been extended to the Botwood area due to declining air quality.

Smoke from forest fires in the region had already prompted the Newfoundland and Labrador government to declare a state of emergency in the Grand Falls-Windsor, Bishop's Falls and Connaigre Peninsula areas.

Residents are encouraged to contact 811 or to see a health-care provider if they experience any new or concerning symptoms that they feel could be related to the heat or smoke.

For information on emergency lodging, please contact the Canadian Red Cross at 1-800-222-9597.

Be ready for evacuation, says premier

The premier is asking residents in central Newfoundland communities to prepare for potential evacuation due to growing forest fires in the region. 

No evacuation order has been given yet. Premier Andrew Furey says the move is not to create panic, but readiness because of the quickly changing situation.

In Gander on Sunday morning, Furey said smoke and poor air quality in the region were major factors in the decision to call for preparations. 

"The fire is not on a direct route to these communities at this particular time," Furey said. "However, the change in wind patterns could have significant smoke impacts on these communities, Bishop's Falls and Grand Falls-Windsor." 

Furey said people living in these areas with lung issues, such as asthma, should consider leaving in advance of the heavy smoke.

A forest fire rages near N.L.'s Bay d'Espoir Highway on Saturday. (Submitted by Derrick Bragg)

The premier has also asked Central Health to begin a triage evacuation plan for people in their facilities, including the hospital in Grand Falls-Windsor, as well as the long term care facilities and personal care homes in the area.

Furey said the state of emergency was declared on the Connaigre Peninsula because of the Bay d'Espoir highway closure. He said a ferry is being re-routed to help move people and goods to and from the area.

"We are establishing a ferry currently and it's on its way to provide services from Fortune to Hermitage, and that will be established in short order." 

He says the current situation is constantly changing. 

"Let's hope we get some rain and all of this has been for nothing," said Furey.

Fire ban expanded to entire province

The news conference came just an hour after Forestry Minister Derrick Bragg expanded the regional outdoor fire ban to the entire province due to ongoing dry, windy weather.

Despite the pre-existing fire ban in the metro area, the St. John's regional fire department said they responded to eight bonfires and two brush fires yesterday. Bragg had a simple message to people violating the fire ban: "Knock it off!"

Bragg said he's pleading with the public to be fire-smart and to protect the province's communities. 

"Last night, I saw two people throw a cigarette butt out their window while I was driving back home," he said. "I thought it was absolutely crazy. That's reckless. We do not need reckless activities in this province."

Furey echoed Bragg's sentiment. "You're doing your part by not potentially causing a fire somewhere else and then taking resources away from what is a once-in-a-generation fire that's raging in central Newfoundland right now." 

The announcement comes less than 12 hours after the premier declared a state of emergency in the region covering Grand Falls-Windsor, Bishop's Falls and Connaigre Peninsula.

A firefighter sprays the ground with water from a hose. He is standing on blackened earth and surrounded by charred trees and smoke.
A firefighter working to control the Bay d'Espoir Highway fire, which has been burning since July 24. (Department of Fisheries, Forestry and Agriculture/Twitter)

State of emergency declared

In a video statement posted to social media Saturday night, Premier Andrew Furey called it the worst fire situation in Newfoundland since 1961, and said while the fires aren't threatening communities at the moment, "the wind is changing and the pattern of smoke distribution will change significantly."

"This is a dynamic situation," he said, flanked in the video by Bragg and incident commander Jason Glode.

Furey said they've asked the Central Health region to create an evacuation plan for its hospitals, long-term care homes, and personal-care homes should the need arise, and people living in the affected communities should also be on alert for possible evacuation.

"We don't want to create panic, but we need to act in a responsible fashion given the current threat level," he said.

In a tweet Saturday night, federal Emergency Preparedness Minister Bill Blair said he had approved the Newfoundland and Labrador government's request for help from the Canadian Forces. Blair said personnel will help "plan and co-ordinate evacuation and movement operations from affected areas."

The fires in central Newfoundland have been burning for two weeks, and the largest, near the Bay d'Espoir Highway, has forced the ongoing closure of the only road in and out of the Connaigre Peninsula. 

In Saturday night's video statement, Bragg said officials are concerned that given the forecast weather conditions, that fire will combine with another burning nearby at Paradise Lake.

"We may see the fire run as much as 10 kilometres," said Glode. "This puts us in approximately 10 to 15 kilometres from Grand Falls-Windsor, and our major concern would be smoke, but also embers and hot ashes and stuff falling on properties."

Sunday afternoon in central Newfoundland, temperatures could reach a high of 28 C, and winds could be gusting to 35 kilometres an hour.

Glode is asking people in the affected communities to "fire smart" their properties — including cutting grass, clearing mulch and any flammable materials from around their property, and trimming any trees leaning against their homes. 

Glode said crews are building a firebreak along the province's transmission lines. 

"That's our line of defence in terms of impacted communities, if the fire should get to that point," he said.

Environment Canada has issued an air quality statement for northeastern Newfoundland, including Grand Falls-Windsor, Clarenville, the Bonavista Peninsula and the Terra Nova area.

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

With files from Danny Arsenault, Matt McCann and Peter Cowan

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