Mayor says town remains on forest fire alert
A thick haze of smoke hangs over Labrador City Tuesday. Residents have returned to Wabush, but the town remains under fire alert, and residents in all areas affected by the fire are hoping for rain.— Photo by Neil Simmons/Special to The Telegram
Dale Day and Edward Carter of Wabush were not alarmed by last Friday’s evacuation order, which was due to air quality issues stemming from smoke created by a nearby forest fire — a fire that was visible from the community of approximately 1,800.
Day, whose wife and daughter were away at the time, was able to stay with a brother-in-law in Labrador City along with his son who uses a wheelchair, while an older daughter stayed with a friend.
“For the most part, it went pretty smooth,” he said.
Carter’s family, too, stayed with relatives in Labrador City.
“For myself, it wasn’t much of a big deal really,” said Carter.
Close to 1,700 people registered with the Canadian Red Cross in Labrador City over the course of two days, with some forced to stay in bunkhouses owned by the Iron Ore Company of Canada. The vast majority of people stayed with family and friends, much like Day and Carter.
Wabush Mayor Ron Barron said there were no active fires in the areas surrounding Wabush on Tuesday, but there were still thousands of hot spots requiring the attention of ground crews and aerial resources.
“At a moment’s notice, a call could come in telling people to leave,” said Barron, who remained in Wabush over the course of the two-day evacuation order from Friday night to Sunday evening while a forest fire burned close to the community.
The fire is now in its second week, and it’s expected that work to contain it will continue for days.
All those who spoke with The Telegram on Tuesday agreed that dry conditions and warm temperatures in the area are a cause for concern and suggested a few days of rain would greatly help the situation.
However, Day said he is optimistic the worst of the forest fire has passed as far as Wabush is concerned. He also noted the presence of a large firebreak that’s been built for the community.
“The fire would have to come in around a different direction in order to threaten the town at this point now,” said Day.
A non-consumption order also remains in effect for Wabush’s water supply, which has been used by water bombers attempting to fan flames. Barron expects that order could soon be lifted, pending three straight good test results for the water’s quality.
Fire’s approach unnerving
The fire appeared to be getting closer to Wabush Thursday night, according to Day.
“It looked really bad, and it looked really close,” said Day, who did not himself feel particularly nervous and kept up to date on what was reported by media about the fire.
By Friday, heavy smoke made its way into the community.
“In terms of the evacuation overall, I agree that it was the right thing to do, and I think it was the right decision (Sunday) to bring us back, because it looked as though everything was getting (to be) a little less of a risk,” said Day. “From my point of view, it was done orderly and fairly quick. They had a good set up for registering people.”
Barron credits work that went into the town’s emergency management plan for helping it deal with the forest fire. Under the Emergency Service Act proclaimed in 2009, all municipalities in Newfoundland and Labrador were required to have an emergency management plan in place by May of last year.
Carter wonders whether people take more precautions now than in years past.
He can recall witnessing a forest fire in the area that appeared to be more threatening to Wabush than the latest one.
“I’ve been here a long time, and I’m after seeing forest fires a good many times (near) the town over the years,” he said. “I’ve seen it a lot closer to the town. Fuss wasn’t kicked up as much as what it was this time.”
As of Tuesday, conditions in the area surrounding Wabush had greatly improved in comparison to late last week.
“Now it’s nothing,” said Day. “Even when we came back on Sunday, there was no visible signs of any fire, and a lot of that had no doubt to do with the wind.”
Winds have moved westerly, helping push smoke and fire away from Wabush. However the town remains under a state of alert, a late-afternoon news release stated.
Police continue to escort travellers along the Trans-Labrador Highway when safety conditions allow.
The media release stated Fire and Emergency Services will stand down this morning and return to Goose Bay.