Out-of-control wildfires near Churchill Falls burn but officials are hopeful

Fire ban remains in effect throughout province

Mark Lawlor, the provincial forest fire duty officer for Newfoundland and Labrador, is feeling cautiously optimistic about the ongoing battle to douse the fires near Churchill Falls.

Of the two fires in that area, Lawlor says crews have made good progress on the one 17 kilometres west of Churchill Falls.

"Yesterday we had helicopters and ground crews working that fire," Lawlor said. "Yesterday was a good day on that fire. There was very little open flame. It was mostly smouldering fire in the ground."

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As for the second fire which is approximately 7 kilometres west of Churchill Falls, Lawlor said that one did briefly pose a concern on Friday evening.

"Yesterday we had the water bombers working that fire and things went well on that fire till approximately 4:30 yesterday evening when on the northwest flank of that fire, which is not adjacent to Churchill Falls, we saw some fire behaviour there," Lawlor said. "We put the water bombers on that and as of yesterday evening things were looking pretty good again with that fire."

Lawlor said Saturday's weather conditions should be optimal for containing the fires.

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"With the weather conditions that are predicted, we are hopeful that we won't see the type of fire behaviour that we saw yesterday," Lawlor said. "Hopefully it will give us a really good day to secure the edges closest to Churchill Falls and keep that fire down."

The company town of around 750 people, which houses a massive hydroelectric plant that provides power to the province and neighbouring Quebec, was evacuated on Wednesday night as the pair of fires made large gains nearby.

Newfoundland and Labrador Hydro also released an update on Saturday morning. In a post on its website, the energy company said "conditions in Churchill Falls remain stable at this time with the fire remaining on the south side of the river."

As well, Hydro said "plant operations remain unaffected at this time and is not at immediate risk."

Fire ban still in effect

Aside from the Churchill Falls fires, Lawlor says there are nine other wildfires as of Saturday morning, however none of them pose any great concern.

"Those fires are generally remote fires that we are simply monitoring," Lawlor said. "There are no values at risk. So we're just letting those fires burn."

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] Water bombers from Quebec were called into action to fight the fire burning near Churchill Falls. (Patrick Butler/Radio-Canada)

Lawlor also wanted to remind the public of the ongoing fire ban in the province.

"We don't need any more fires at this time that could cause strain on resources," Lawlor said. "A lot of our fires on the island are human caused. So that's why we have the fire ban in place. Please obey that fire ban and hopefully we can get through this time with no fires on the island."

Despite those concerns, Lawlor says the province does have enough resources to manage the situation in Churchill Falls.

"Our resources are adequate to do the job we need to do right now with the fires in Labrador and on the island. We do have sufficient crews and given as well we have the added water bombers in Labrador now that really significantly increases our capacity to fight fire."

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Thumbnail courtesy of Patrick Butler/Radio-Canada.

This article was written by the CBC. It contains files from Weekend AM.