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State of emergency to be lifted for central NL as forest fires remain stable

Saturday, August 13th 2022, 11:20 am - Risk of evacuation now deemed low

A state of emergency lasting nearly a week for parts of central Newfoundland will be lifted at midnight, the provincial government said Friday evening.

Grand Falls-Windsor, Bishop's Falls and Botwood, as well as the Coast of Bays region, were all under an evacuation alert as two distinct blazes swelled at the towns' doorsteps.

But favourable weather has allowed fire crews to turn a corner.

Special air quality statements were also lifted earlier Friday in areas affected by forest fires in central Newfoundland, as Premier Andrew Furey says the province is entering the next stage of fighting the flames.

In a video posted Thursday on Furey's social media pages, the premier said better air quality levels than initially expected have helped firefighters tackle the fires in both the Paradise Lake region and off the Bay d'Espoir Highway.

"Because of the hard-working women and men on the ground and in the air, we feel like the fire is turning a corner. This means the evacuation risk for Grand Falls-Windsor and Bishop's Falls is quite low right now," Furey said.

"The threat level has come down albeit, but it is still there."

Forest fire duty officer Jeff Motty said Friday both major fires are still deemed out of control but aren't currently growing. The Paradise Lake fire is 17,233 hectares in size, while the Bay d'Espoir Highway spans 5,614 hectares,

The size of another notable fire, at Southern Lake — north of Grand Falls-Windsor near the community of Point Leamington — also remains stable, at 283 hectares. The fire's perimeter is 20 per cent contained, Motty said.

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"From the notes from last night, we never saw any growth in size on our wildfires.… So the actual perimeter or footprint of the fire is pretty much remaining stable," said Motty.

"Firefighters made a great lot of progress.… They started to get hose lines out and are starting to really move around that fire and get some work done on the perimeters of the fire."

CBC: Firefighting planes Water bombers like these ones will continue to be used in firefighting over the weekend. (Henrike Wilhelm/CBC)

The Bay d'Espoir Highway will remain open on Friday, the third straight day the highway has been open after it was closed earlier this week. The decision will be reassessed Saturday.

Motty said crews will continue to fight the flames on foot over the weekend on top of using helicopters and water bombers. He said firefighters are also beginning to transition away from the initial attack phase to working on hot spots and on preventive measures like fire breaks.

"It really kind of looks like we're making that transition from initial attack to more sustained action," Motty said.

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"We're kind of like to the point where we've prevented any further growth of the fire, and now it's just kind of working to contain them. It's a sustained action or mop-up, so a lot of work to come ahead of us."

Weather conditions will be sunny and warm with light winds in the Grand Falls-Windsor area as crews continue to fight the flames. A high temperature of around 22 C is expected with a humidex of 27, and light winds of around 10 to 20 km/h from the north.

Environment Canada meteorologist Mike Vandenberg said residents in the community could smell smoke in the air early this morning, but that will likely dissipate into the afternoon.

He's also watching the next weather system headed for the region, which could bring five to 10 millimetres of rain on Saturday night into Sunday morning.

In the video, Forestry Minister Derrick Bragg encouraged residents to remain ready should the fire situation change, as any small factor could change the threat level to the region.

"Our fire is still listed as out of control. When we saw out of control four or five days ago, there was flames in the sky," Bragg said.

The Department of Children, Seniors and Social Development announced Friday that the emergency shelter in Deer Lake will close as officials have decided it's no longer necessary.

People staying in the shelter will be sent to either Bishop's Falls, Grand Falls-Windsor or Botwood, but the shelter will reopen if necessary, said the department.

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This story, written by Alex Kennedy, was originally published by CBC News on August 13, 2022.

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