Nfld. & Labrador

Gains made in stabilizing forest fires near Wabush

Police have been able to extend the area of highway that is safe to travel in western Labrador, even as fires consume greater territory.

Police checkpoints pushed further east as crews tackle stubborn forest fires

Forest fires have been burning outside the mining town of Wabush since June 23.

Police have again been able to extend the area of highway that is safe to travel in western Labrador, even though a stubborn fire continues to consume nearby forests.

Three planes and six helicopters were assigned Monday to the fire, which broke out June 23 and has consumed 270 square kilometres of land in Labrador and across the border in Quebec.

One of the helicopters is using an infrared scanner to help locate hotspots.

The Royal Newfoundland Constabulary, which polices the area, said Monday that it was able to move its checkpoint on the Trans-Labrador Highway about 15 kms east into the restricted zone.

"Since flare-ups and possible toxins from the forest fire remain a concern, motorists are advised to only drive through the TLH and not stop on or venture off the highway between Grand Hermine and Route 503," the RNC said in a statement.

Sections of the highway have frequently been closed over the last two weeks, with the RNC providing escorts when safe for vehicles needing to get through.

But the RNC is still urging cabin owners to stay away from their properties.

The ability to fight the fire has been hampered by the weather, which in recent days made it unsafe to fly water bombers to douse the flames. A helicopter was able to douse fires on Sunday.

As well, a water bomber remains submerged in Moosehead Lake, where it lost power on July 4 and has been unable to return to service.

Parts of Labrador lost phone and internet services on Friday evening when fire damaged a fibre optic line. Service was restored by Sunday night.

A separate fire broke out over the weekend in central Labrador, outside Happy Valley-Goose Bay. That fire was contained by Sunday night, as crews continued to monitor the area.  

A state of emergency remains in effect for Wabush, a mining town of almost 2,000 residents. Most left the town on June 28 when deteriorating air quality prompted officials to call for an evacuation.

Residents returned two days later, but air quality has steadily continued to erode.