Nfld. & Labrador

In central Newfoundland, people say they're prepared — but not panicked — as fires continue burning

People in Bishop's Falls and Grand Falls-Windsor say they're prepared for the worst, but remain optimistic as a pair of out-of-control forest fires continue to burn nearby.

Residents are ready to flee — but are optimistic that won't happen

A person wearing glasses and a hoodie stands in a parking lot. She's holding a towel and a cellphone.
Charlotte Foster says the state of emergency in Grand Falls-Windsor is nerve-racking. (Darrell Roberts/CBC)

Charlotte Foster was camping on Saturday when she got the news her town, Grand Falls-Windsor, was under a state of emergency.

"I came straight home to pack everything just in case, 'cause you never know if the wind can turn," Foster said Monday.

Two forest fires have been burning out of control near Bishop's Falls and Grand Falls-Windsor for weeks now. The fires intensified over the weekend, in part due to hot, dry, windy conditions — and also the unpredictability of fire behaviour.

It's that uncertain situation Foster calls nerve-racking.

"A lot of anxiety. A lot of anxiety," she said. "At the same time, we gotta keep calm and all of it, right? Hopefully it will all work out," she said.

The Newfoundland and Labrador government declared a state of emergency for Bishop's Falls, Grand Falls-Windsor and the Connaigre Peninsula on Saturday, and added the town of Botwood on Sunday.

'It's super scary'

Madison Antle, who lives in Bishop's Falls, said she's had conversations with friends and family about where to go if they have to flee. If an evacuation order comes, she'll head to the island's East Coat to stay with friends.

"The winds are changing all the time, so people are really, like, on their toes and they don't know what to expect," she said. "It's super scary."

A person stands on a grassy bank in front of a body of water. They're wearing a black sweater with the word "modo" in white across the front.
Madison Antle says she's prepared to travel to Newfoundland's east coast and stay with friends if an evacuation order comes. (Darrell Roberts/CBC)

Antle is moving to Toronto for school this fall, but said she's ready to leave earlier if necessary.

Alan Noftall of Grand Falls-Windsor said the situation began to feel real after he watched Premier Andrew Furey's state of emergency announcement Saturday night. Furey described the fires as the worst the province has seen since 1961, and said an evacuation order wasn't imminent, but people should be ready to go at a moment's notice.

Noftall said people in Grand Falls-Windsor are nervous.

"I think people are in disbelief," he said. "We've had fires near the community before, but nothing this major."

A person wearing glasses and a baseball cap sits in a red car holding the steering wheel.
Alan Noftall says he's hopeful the forest fire situation will improve but he's prepared to head to the island's west coast. (Darrell Roberts/CBC)

Noftall said he's packed, and knows where he'll go if he has to leave. "As they say: 'go west, young man.'"

'Pretty good shape'

In Bishop's Falls, Bill Milley said the community is doing relatively well, and is coming together to help. He's a member of the local Lions Club, which has been working to raise money and help travellers stranded by the ongoing Bay d'Espoir Highway closure.

A person wearing glasses stands outside in front of some trees.
Bill Milley is a member of the Bishop's Falls Lions Club, which has been helping travellers stranded due to the closure of the Bay d'Espoir highway. (Katie Breen/CBC)

The road, a vital link to the Coast of Bays area, was closed for a fourth straight day on Monday, with officials warning a pair of fires near the highway and Paradise Lake had grown — though they didn't merge, as was feared over the weekend. Central Health moved some patients and long-term care residents over the weekend due to the heavy smoke, which also hindered efforts to fight the fire.

But there was some good news for the area Monday — Environment Canada lifted its air quality warning as winds shifted, blowing smoke away from the towns. There's also a small amount of rain forecasted for Tuesday.

"We're just blessed, I guess," Milley said. "Someone's looking out for us — and it ain't me."

Milley said he can be ready to leave at a moment's notice, but he's hoping it won't come to that.

"We don't feel any threat here in Bishop's whatsoever with regards to the fire. Just the smoke's the problem," he said.

Milley said he's hopeful the tide will turn on the firefighting, and the communities can get back to normal.

"I think we're in pretty good shape right now, and I can only see it improving in the next couple of days."

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Darrell Roberts is a reporter for CBC Newfoundland and Labrador in St. John's.

With files from Katie Breen

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