Residents return to Wabush as fire moves off

Andrew Robinson and Josh Pennell
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The RNC restricted access to Wabush over the Canada Day weekend.
— Photo by Neil Simmons/Special to the Telegram

More than a week after it began, a forest fire in western Labrador continued to burn out of control Monday,

but had moved far enough away from the town of Wabush to allow evacuated residents to return.

Friday evening, the town declared a state of emergency and an order to evacuate to nearby Labrador City was given. The Red Cross confirmed that 1,733 people — 983 families — registered as they moved into Labrador City. Mayor Karen Oldford said the majority of people coming to stay in her town did so with family and friends, though just over 100 people stayed in IOC temporary workers’ housing at the Labrador Lodge.

Oldford said the evacuation went well.

“It all went so well. Everything went so smoothly.”

Oldford attributed the success of the order to the generosity of the community.

“The outpouring from the community, from individuals, from small and large businesses, has been phenomenal,” she said.

By Sunday, people were allowed to return to their homes in Wabush, though residents are still being told to be prepared to leave on short notice and the state of emergency is still in effect.

An update released by the town of Wabush Monday said the situation with the fire had essentially not changed.

Two water bombers and four helicopters were in the air battling the blaze and while some unexpected rain showers helped matters somewhat, the fire fight isn’t anywhere near over.

Provincial forest fire duty officer Eric Earle said Sunday was a good day for combatting the fire, but expressed concern about what a weather forecast calling for warmer temperatures will mean for the fire in the days ahead.

“What it may do is, as the temperatures go up, the fuels dry out,” said Earle.

“It was a good day today in terms of our suppression efforts, but the long-range forecast is not looking good for us. … We made progress today, but we’re far from finishing this forest fire.”

There was an impact on communication services in the immediate area of the fire but also in other parts of Labrador. Late Friday afternoon, 911 service in Wabush and Labrador City was down and there were issues with long distance, local landlines and cellular service.

By Saturday evening, those problems had been fixed by rerouting services through Quebec. Bell Aliant was attempting to complete restoration of Internet service in Happy Valley-Goose Bay and other communities in central Labrador and those along the northern coast because of a break in a transport fibre optic line in the fire zone.

Bell Aliant spokesman, Mark Duggan said repairing the break was complicated by the fact it had occurred in a dangerous environment.

“We’re working with (the Department of) Natural Resources and Fire and Emergency Services, but obviously we can’t send crews in until it’s safe,” said Duggan.

 By Monday evening, all services had been restored.

A complete fire ban remains in place with only propane barbecues being allowed. A number of water consumption regulations have been established for Wabush.

Residents have been told to not drink water from the tap, brush their teeth with tap water or bathe babies in tap water and to only sponge bathe small children.

Adults, however, can use tap water for bathing and washing clothes.

A water station has been established at the Labrador City Arena. While it is known that some cabins have been lost to the fire, there haven’t been any reports of damage to homes in Wabush.

The RNC continues to escort necessary traffic along the Trans-Labrador Highway between Route 503 and Churchill Falls when it is safe to do so. The highway will continue to be monitored by officials.


Organizations: Red Cross, Bell Aliant, Natural Resources and Fire and Emergency Services Labrador City Arena

Geographic location: Wabush, Labrador, Quebec Happy Valley Goose Bay

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