Nfld. & Labrador

Town of Wabush under evacuation as fires advance

Officials in the mining town of Wabush in western Labrador have declared a state of emergency as forest fires and smoke surround the community.

Red Cross registering residents at the Arts and Culture Centre in Labrador City

Pictures today and last night from a forest fire burning close to Wabush 2:23

Officials in town of Wabush in western Labrador declared a state of emergency on Friday night, as forest fires and smoke continue to close in on the community.

In a statement issued shortly before 9 p.m. AT, the town said it would immediately begin a "phased" evacuation of 1,800 residents to the neighbouring town of Labrador City.

Cars were lined up leaving Wabush on Friday evening, heading for nearby Labrador City. (Kate Adach/CBC)

The decison was made on the recommendation of Natural Resources Minister Tom Marshall.

Concern over air quality was the main motivation for the evacuation. Smoke and ash from the fire has blanketed the area.

On Saturday morning, Environment Canada issued another special air quality statement for western Labrador. 

All residents of Wabush were told to prepare to leave their homes, and to report to the reception area of the Arts and Culture Centre in Labrador City. There, people have been given information on accommodations.

The Red Cross estimates 1,300 residents were registered as of 7 a.m. Saturday.

The order also urged residents to put together a "go kit" – which should include necessities such as medications, changes of clothing, bank cards and cash, cellphones and chargers, personal toiletries, as well as formula and diapers for infants.

People have been taking their pets, pet carriers, cages and food to the arts centre.

Kevin O'Brien, the minister responsible for fire and emergency services, emphasized that the community is not at risk from the fire itself.

"The town, at this point in time, is in no danger from the fire itself, but the smoke is the issue," O'Brien said.

"Once first light comes and I get a report from the experts on the ground, if there is additional resources needed we'll be asking neighbouring provinces … for those resources." 

Landlines in both Wabush and Labrador City have not been operational since Friday evening, as well as 911 service. Cell phone users in western Labrador can call 709-280-2841 in case of an emergency. The Royal Newfoundland Constabulary and Bell Aliant are working on a solution.

Police say the Trans-Labrador Highway will continue to remain closed on Saturday. 

The town has closed Bond Avenue, Union Road, Whiteway Drive and Grenfell Drive in order to keep the streets open for emergency responders.

Newfoundland and Labrador Hydro said in a release on Friday that it may temporarily suspend electricity service for customers in Labrador City and Wabush for safety reasons. It will provide updates if the situation changes.

Help from all corners

Chuck Porter, a conservation officer with the Department of Natural Resources, said crews have been calling in additional resources to combat the fire.

"Every day we get people walking into the office here offering water suppression equipment, everything from the Tim Hortons canteens to a thousand-gallon pumper truck and everything in between," Porter said.

Porter said weather conditions forecast for the weekend may help fight the fire.

"Looking forward to the next couple days — got a forecast of some rain along the way," he said.

Wabush Mayor Ron Barron said registering at the arts centre is important so that officials can track the town's residents.

Forest fires have been burning outside Labrador City and Wabush, as well as on land in nearby Quebec since last weekend, and have destroyed a string of cabins.

A fourth water bomber joined the effort Friday, with a crew flying in from Happy Valley-Goose Bay in central Labrador. Two helicopters are helping with the effort.

No one has been injured.

Aerial crews, including water bombers and a helicopter, have tried to push back the fires with water, but weather conditions have helped fuel the blazes.