Nfld. & Labrador

Rash of Twillingate fires has chief sounding the alarm

After responding to 11 fires in recent months, the local fire chief says his crew are strained and the community is scared.

Fire department has responded to 11 fires, know of 2 others

This fire, near Route 340 in Twillingate on July 22, destroyed a fishing seine and trailer. Police suspect it was arson. (RCMP)

A string of small fires in Twillingate, each involving similar circumstances, has locals and emergency responders alike worried, says the town's fire chief.

Craig Clarke says since April, his crews have responded to 11 fires, and know of two others set that burned out on their own.

Most occur on warm, sunny days in isolated areas, he said, with quad or dirt bike tracks leading away from the scene. Many have involved brush and trees, but in one case three sheds caught fire, and in another, an old school was involved.

RCMP suspect arson in a July 22 that torched a fishing seine and trailer causing $50,000 worth of damage.

"It's giving everybody a very uneasy feeling. This has never happened in Twillingate before," said Clarke.

While no one has been hurt in the fires, Clarke said that doesn't mean the blazes haven't posed a risk.

"It's really dangerous because a lot of these fires are going really good when we get there," he said. All it would take in some circumstances is a shift of wind to "basically destroy the community," he added.

One fire required a water bomber's help, and in the hot conditions two firefighters suffered heat exhaustion from fighting the fires inside their thick, heavy suits, he said. His crew often have to drag hoses through the woods to reach the fires, exhausting work that has his crew on edge, as he says on any sunny day he's now thinking the worst.

Police investigating

Clarke said with no culprit attached, local residents are concerned about the continued emergencies.

"People are afraid," he said. He also worries about the strain the fires are putting on emergency responders in the area, from his own crew to paramedics.

"Everyone's been doing the best they can to help us out, but they can only do so much," he said.

Beyond the July 22 fire, RCMP are investigating the others, he said, and have also been on the scene of every fire but the first.

"Hopefully it will all come out in the end," he told CBC Radio's Newfoundland Morning.

Grand Falls-Windsor is also dealing with numerous, unexplained fires, with the RCMP investigating those.

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

With files from CBC Newfoundland Morning