No signs as to when Churchill Falls residents will return home, fire officer says

26 June 2024
No signs as to when Churchill Falls residents will return home, fire officer says

With warm temperatures and no precipitation until Wednesday, Newfoundland and Labrador fire duty officer Mark Lawlor says there’s still no sign as to when residents of Churchill Falls will be able to return to their homes after being evacuated under the threat of a nearby wildfire.

“We need the comfort level that the fire behaviour is at a level that doesn’t pose a risk to Churchill Falls, and right now we’re not seeing that in the near future. But hopefully we will soon,” Lawlor told CBC News just after 4 p.m. NT on Monday.

“The risk is minimal today basically due to the weather. We’ve had a little change, and today is a good day.… However, that could change very quickly with a forecast with increased wind [and] higher temperature.”

Temperatures could reach a high of 26 C in Churchill Falls on Tuesday, with only light southwesterly winds and no precipitation. That will likely bring increased fire activity, he said.

The out-of-control fire is still contained to the south side of the Churchill River, an estimated seven kilometres from the community.

“We’re seeing a lot of smoke on that fire today, and there is some open flame [and] trees burning. The fire’s not making any major runs or movement. What it’s doing, it’s burning up fuel inside its perimeter that previously didn’t burn,” he said.

An evacuation order was issued last week for the power-generating town, forcing several hundreds of people to leave the central Labrador community.

A skeleton crew remained behind in Churchill Falls to maintain the massive hydroelectric plant, which supplies energy to Newfoundland and Labrador as well as Quebec.

While two water bombers from Quebec were recalled, said Lawlor, two more and an aircraft from Saskatchewan are en route and expected to arrive midday Monday.

“We fully intend to engage those guys if possible, to get them involved with fighting the fire this evening,” he said.

In a statement issued Sunday evening, Newfoundland and Labrador Hydro said it’s closely monitoring the weather forecasts and smoky conditions were still a problem. Its systems have not yet been affected.

All of Newfoundland and Labrador’s four active water bombers are fighting the fire nearest to Churchill Falls, along with two water bombers from Ontario and two on the way from Saskatchewan. (Peter Cowan/CBC)

“Industrial sprinkler systems have also been installed and are supplementing the lack of rain in efforts to protect homes and town assets,” Hydro’s statement said.

The town is open to emergency and critical personnel only. Hydro, a Crown corporation, asked for non-critical deliveries to be suspended for the time being.

“At this time, plant and transmission operations remain unaffected and are not at immediate risk.”

9 fires in Labrador

According to the Newfoundland and Labrador government’s active fire dashboard, there are nine fires in Labrador.

The Mount Hyde Lake fire is still out of control, and the Twin Lakes fire is being held. The Menihek Dam fire is now under control.

There is one fire on Newfoundland’s east coast. On Sunday, an out-of-control fire started in Burgoyne’s Cove, a small community in Trinity Bay.

There had previously been a fire in South Branch, on Newfoundland’s west coast, but that has been extinguished.

Fire suppression efforts working against Churchill Falls wildfires

Fire ban issued for Newfoundland and most of Labrador

On Sunday, Premier Andrew Furey said the province is taking extra measures to contain the fire, including creating a fire break around the community.

“That involves the use of heavy equipment to remove some trees and vegetation to eliminate potential fuel source if the fire does cross the river.”

It will be 60 metres wide and eight to 10 kilometres long, and will take days to complete.

Lawlor said he’s pleased with the progress made so far on building the fire break, saying it will take least a couple of days to finish.

In an effort to prevent other fires from breaking out that would be a drain on available resources, a fire ban was issued Thursday across Newfoundland and most of Labrador.

Finding friendship

While people wait to head back to Churchill Falls, many have found comfort and a place to stay with residents of Happy Valley-Goose Bay.

Pamela Power and her family had to leave their home on 45 minutes’ notice and were looking for a place to stay when they were connected with Nicole Parsons and her family.

“It’s all turned out pretty good,” Parsons said, noting their children are around the same age and are getting along.

Nicole Parsons of Happy Valley-Goose Bay, left, and her family welcomed strangers into their home when residents of Churchill Falls were evacuated including Pamela Power. (CBC)

Parsons said she knew she wanted to help in any way she could when she heard people were coming to Happy Valley-Goose Bay, and that it has created a budding friendship.

“In Newfoundland and Labrador we take care of each other. So we take in random strangers,” she said. “We’re already planning on when they’re passing through that we’re going to hang out and spend time together. We’re putting some new features on our property, and they’re going to help us put that in.”

And it turns out Parsons and Power already had a connection they didn’t know about until they met.

Their families’ cats are brothers.

Source: cbc

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