Mayor ponders safety measures to consider for future forest fires
© Neil Simmons photo/special to The Telegram
Three weeks after a forest fire first made news in western Labrador, Wabush’s mayor was happy to report Monday that the community’s state of emergency has finally been lifted.
“It’s good to have it gone,” said Mayor Ron Barron. “It gives people here a little bit more peace of mind. There is no threat, so it’s very comforting now with all that happened here that people can basically get back to their normal lives.”
According to the Department of Natural Resources’ website for information on active forest fires, the fire was contained on approximately 80 per cent of the estimated 15,000 hectares of land within the western Labrador fire zone.
The fire was classified as out of control through most of the last three weeks, but as of Monday it was reclassified as contained. Crews were still working to contain hot spots on Monday, though the size of those crews had been reduced significantly. Two helicopters remained in the area.
In a briefing with the department Sunday, Barron said the town was told it could lift its alert advisory requiring residents to have a bag packed in preparation for a possible evacuation order. An evacuation order was announced on June 29 and lasted for two days.
Most residents of Wabush stayed in Labrador City with friends, family, and even strangers in some cases, while 45 people were housed in vacant bunkhouses owned by the Iron Ore Co. of Canada.
“Overall I think the experience was one that was a very positive one ... it definitely showed how Wabush and Labrador City are very tight,” said the mayor.
While there was no property damage within Wabush related to the fire, some cabin owners will be looking to rebuild their properties.
“Some people are going to rebuild, and some probably won’t,” said Barron, who added the most important point to reflect on is that no one was hurt over the last three weeks.
“It’s good to have it gone.” Wabush Mayor Ron Barron
“There was no one hurt, and any time you can say that, that’s the best outcome you can possibly have,” he said.
While the worst of this forest fire may be over with, past experience indicates there will be more fires for years to come in the area. Barron said they are an annual occurrence in western Labrador, if not always to the magnitude of the most recent forest fire.
He said the town may want to consider building more firebreaks like the one constructed during the evacuation order by heavy equipment operators to help defend the community. The mayor also said additional rural roads may help in combating future fires.
“(Ground crews) had to have access to fires, and while we do have some remote roads that they can (access), there’s not enough, so that’s something else that will probably have to be looked at,” said Barron.
The mayor said volunteers in Wabush and Labrador City did phenomenal work while the state of emergency was in place and that local businesses offered help at great expense to their own operations. He said the town will eventually hold an appreciation event to bring people together and formally recognize their contributions.
Barron was also grateful for the provincial government’s help in dealing with the fire and assisting the town as it dealt with its state of emergency. He said the exercise of updating the town’s emergency management plan in recent years as mandated by Fire and Emergency Services — Newfoundland and Labrador proved beneficial.