Nfld. & Labrador

'Very fortunate' water bomber was back from other fire to fight St. John's blaze

Fire officials in Kenmount Terrace Tuesday morning checking for hot spots.

Some damage to a few Kenmount Terrace homes; cause of forest fire to be investigated

This water bomber, flying over Kenmount Terrace in St. John's on Monday, had just returned from fighting a fire near Cappahayden. (Gary Locke/CBC)

It was good timing that a water bomber was available to battle the forest fire in Kenmount Terrace on Monday, since it had just finished fighting another forest fire on the Avalon Peninsula.

"We were very, very fortunate," says Jeff Motty, the provincial forest fire duty officer.

Fort  McMurray  is still very much going to be fresh in everyone's minds- Jeff Motty

"It just so happened that the water bomber was back from the fire it was fighting in Cappahayden and was in St. John's, so a series of good events lined up for us. The stars lined up for us, so we were lucky. It was a close call."

Officials remain in Kenmount Terrace Tuesday morning, digging the ground to check for hot spots that may have sparked up overnight.

Newfoundland Power crews are also on the scene, steadily restoring power to homes in the area.

The fire in Cappahayden had been burning for a number of days, with air support heading out occasionally to douse the flames.

By Monday afternoon, the water bomber had flown back to St. John's, just in time to assist provincial and city firefighters with the Kenmount Terrace forest fire, the flames of which came within metres of homes.

Two firefighters work on dousing hot spots in the woods that border Kenmount Terrace in St. John's. (Fred Hutton/CBC)

One of the province's water bombers was on loan to Quebec under a shared resources agreement, while Quebec had 80 active forest fires and N.L. had none.

Since that water bomber was loaned out, Quebec has knocked down the number of active fires to 30, and this province's fire hazard increased from low to moderate to high and severe.

That water bomber is now on its way back to Newfoundland, government said in an emailed statement.

Multiple homes in Kenmount Terrace were damaged, with a deck being burned and some siding and windows melted.

No homes, though, were lost and no injuries were reported.

Singed ground and trees in the woods surrounding Kenmount Terrace. (Fred Hutton/CBC)

The dry conditions, paired with Monday's strong southwesterly winds, Motty said, made for challenging conditions.

"It spread very quickly," he told CBC's St. John's Morning Show.

Support will be made available

There's still no information about how the fire started, but an investigation will be started promptly, while ground crews are on the scene again this morning monitoring, Motty said.

"We'll assign whatever resources we have to, whether it's air support, more ground support, and just want to put a strong thank you to St. John's Regional Fire Department," he said.

"Fort McMurray is still very much going to be fresh in everyone's minds and of course B.C. had a big fire last year."

A firefighter douses hot spots in Kenmount Terrace in St. John's Tuesday morning, after a forest fire came perilously close to homes. (Fred Hutton/CBC)

St. John's Mayor Danny Breen, noting there was an exercise just a couple of months ago to test the city's emergency preparedness systems, said those systems performed "very well" on Monday.

This came perilously close to those properties.- Mayor Danny Breen

Staff will now do a debrief on areas to improve on, and figuring out what worked well and what didn't.

Monday was Breen's first forest fire incident since he was elected mayor last year.

"It was very scary," he said.

Eddie Cole's home on Orlando Place on Kenmount Terrace has some burned siding, after Monday's forest fire. (Jonny Hodder/CBC)

"Your first concern, of course, is the safety of everybody, but the loss of property is very traumatic to people, and this came perilously close to those properties."

Breen also commended area residents for their co-operation with first responders, who went door to door telling people to evacuate the area with little to no notice.

Clear trees and gutter debris

Meanwhile, Motty said everyone should educate themselves on what to do in case a forest fire burns in their area, and recommends visiting the Fire Smart Canada website.

Fire forced Kenmount Terrace residents out of their homes Monday 1:25

People can also ensure their properties are maintained, and reduce risk of fire by clearing the tree density on their properties and ensuring gutters are cleared of debris annually.

"It's not the fire that burns the homes — a lot of times it's the embers that are out, travelling in front of the fire that are being fanned by the winds, when they land on properties and structures," Motty said.

Charred grass just feet away from a residential fence on Orlando Place in Kenmount Terrace shows just how close the flames came to homes. (Ted Dillon/CBC)

Meanwhile, Motty said the forest fire in Cappahayden — south of St. John's, on the Southern Shore —  has still not been fully contained, while a fire that's been burning since last week near Grates Cove, on the northwestern part of the Avalon, is now under control.

Read more articles from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

With files from the St. John's Morning Show