Labrador fires still burning, as rain helps ease fears
Wabush residents return to daily activities as aerial and ground crews work
Residents of the western Labrador mining town of Wabush are hoping for more rain as crews continue to attack the forest fires that helped prompt a two-day evacuation over the weekend.
Almost five millimetres of rain fell Monday, smack dab in the centre of the fires just a few kilometres out of Wabush. Heavier amounts fell during the weekend, which provided a turning point for crews that have been trying to extinguish the fires for more than a week.
Chuck Porter, a conservation officer with the Department of Natural Resources, said the rain was very much welcomed by a growing number of firefighters who have trying to extinguish fires that have been burning since June 23.
"It's the water bombers, it's the helicopters, and it's the ground crews, and the ground crews are dispersed everywhere today, dropped off in helicopters," Porter said Monday.
"They're in boats today, they're just surrounding this fire, determined — determined — to get rid of those hotspots."
Porter said he did not see "any active flame, just hundreds and hundreds of hotspots" during two patrols.
Smoke, ash and deteriorating air quality led the Newfoundland and Labrador government to issue a mandatory evacuation on Friday night, with most of the town's residents seeking shelter with friends and family in neighbouring Labrador City.
The order was lifted late Sunday night.
Officials warn that the town of less than 2,000 residents could again undergo an evacuation order if conditions worsen, including a shift in winds and a flare-up in nearby forests.
Residents, though, were glad to be able to return to their homes.
"The people in Labrador City were just phenomenal [with] how many people stepped up to help," said resident Donna Dumaresque.
"But I just wanted to get home to my own house, my own bed, my own kitchen."
Colleen Corbett said she felt relieved to do ordinary chores, like the dishes.
Unauthorized aircraft reported
"In a way it was very scary, not knowing that maybe we would never get back in again, and all of our personal belongings, our pictures ... we never knew what pictures were still here, still on the wall, so it was scary," Corbett told CBC News.
"I think I had a knot in my stomach since Friday night when we left."
Officials say there have also been reports of unauthorized aircraft flying in the firefighting airspace, and that could create a safety issue as well.
Portions of the Trans-Labrador Highway in the area have remained closed, with the Royal Newfoundland Constabulary — which polices the area — providing escorts when it has been safe to do so.
Police have continued to stress to cabin owners to stay away from their properties until the highway is completely open.