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Crews still battle fires in Labrador as air quality concerns ease in Maritimes

Water Bombers stop to refuel as they fight the forest fires near Wabush, NL (courtesy: Sheldon Tuck)

Water Bombers stop to refuel as they fight the forest fires near Wabush, NL (courtesy: Sheldon Tuck)

The Canadian Press

Tuesday, July 2, 2013, 5:29 PM -

A state of emergency remained in effect Tuesday in the western Labrador town of Wabush as firefighters continued to douse hot spots from forest fires that forced a two-day evacuation that ended late Sunday.

Most of the town's 2,000 residents have returned to their homes, but Mayor Ron Barron said another voluntary evacuation order could come if the wind shifts and the flames flare up again.

"There's no flames as such, but there's still lots of hot spots in the area," he said in an interview. "They need to be prepared at a moment's notice to leave town if that call comes again."

People living in about 80 homes ignored the voluntary evacuation order Friday, the mayor said.

All residents have been told to have an emergency kit ready to go.

The province's Department of Natural Resources has recommended the town remain on fire alert because temperatures were expected to increase in the coming days.

About four dozen firefighters were still at work on the ground Tuesday, and at least three water bombers and four helicopters were also being used. However, Barron says the wind had turned around and was blowing smoke away from the town.

"Right now, everything is in our favour," he said.

Still, vehicles were being escorted through a section of the Trans-Labrador Highway closest to where the fire was burning.

Residents have been told they can't drink or use the town's regular water supply because the local reservoir had to be used as a source of water for the water bombers.

Though there were no reports of fuel leaks from the aircraft, Barron said the consumption ban will remain in effect until the town gets three consecutive days of clean water tests. Meanwhile, Environment Canada lifted air quality warnings issued for parts of Nova Scotia, P.E.I. and New Brunswick after some smoke drifted into the Maritimes.

Meteorologist Linda Libby said shifting winds and rain prompted the department to end the air quality statements by late Tuesday morning.

"The rain ... is helping to knock a lot of the particulates out of the air," she said in an interview from Charlottetown.

The statements had warned that smoke could descend close to the ground, reducing air quality.

Libby said some reporting stations recorded smoke in the area overnight, but the changing circulation pattern of a weather system has moved the smoke away from the Maritimes.

The fire has consumed around 700 square kilometres since it began over a week ago.

Meanwhile, forest fires in the Quebec region have prompted smog advisories in southern Ontario, including the cities of Toronto, Hamilton and Ottawa.

Air quality warnings lifted for Maritimes
Prescott, Arizona holds an emotional service in memory of 19 fallen firefighters
Wabush evacuees return home as firefight continues

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