UPDATE: Residents return to Wabush - Fire still being fought

Published on June 30, 2013

UPDATE: 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 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 1733 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 or so people stayed in IOC temporary worker’s housing at the Labrador Lodge. By Sunday, people were allowed to return to their homes in Wabush, though residents are still being told to be prepared to leave their homes on short notice and the state of emergency is still in effect. An update released by the town of Wabush on 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 had helped matters somewhat, the fire fight isn’t anywhere near over.

In addition to their still being a complete fire ban in place with only propane barbecues being allowed, there’s also a number of water consumption principles established for the Town of Wabush. Residents have been told to not drink water from the tap, brush their teeth with tap water and or bath babies in tap water and to only sponge bath 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 local RNC continue 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.


Earlier story:

The Town of Wabush is allowing residents back into their homes, however the evacuation alert is still in effect, states a news release issued by the town.


Residents should be prepared to leave their homes on short notice and the state of emergency is still in effect.

SEE photos from Labrador.


According to the news release the following water consumption principles have been established for the Town of Wabush: "Do not drink water from the tap, do not brush your teeth with tap water, do not bath babies in tap water and 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, states the release. Residents are required to being their own containers.


The town council is urging residents to take their time in returning in a safe and orderly manner.


(Earlier story)

A provincial forest fire duty officer says Sunday was a good day for combating the week-old forest fire in western Labrador.

However, Eric Earle is concerned 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.

Five millimetres of rainfall was reported in the Wabush area on Saturday. Earle said that proved helpful in dealing with the blaze on Sunday.

“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.”

Two waterbombers focused on the western flank closest to Wabush. The community was evacuated last Friday over air quality concerns related to the presence of smoke. The forest fire itself is four kilometres from Wabush.

Earle said that fire did not advance on Sunday. Winds were westerly, reducing the amount of smoke impacting the town.

“There wasn’t a lot of smoke created today, so most of what was there was taken away from the town today,” said Earle.

Ground crews were dealing with the northeast portion of the forest fire alongside the Trans Labrador Highway, which remained closed, though Earle said some traffic was escorted through the area on Sunday. Two helicopters assisted that area by extinguishing hot spots.

Two other waterbombers have been working on the northern portion of the fire.

An additional helicopter was due to arrive in Labrador west Sunday evening.


(Earlier story)

A forest fire in western Labrador is now having an impact on residents in other parts of Newfoundland’s northern neighbour.

Internet service is down 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. Cellular service has also been affected.

According to Bell Aliant spokesman Mark Duggan, repairing the break is complicated by the fact it has 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.

He said the company has visually confirmed the break with a helicopter and that it hopes to have crews in that area today to look at it.

“But again, that really depends on fire conditions,” added Duggan.

There was some good news last night concerning other telecommunication services impacted by the fire. Bell Aliant managed to restore 911 service and fix issues with long distance, local landline calls and cellular service in Labrador City and Wabush.

Those issues were fixed at approximately 8 p.m. Saturday by re-routing traffic through Quebec.

The break was first detected at approximately 4:30 p.m. Friday. It is located 20 kilometres east of Labrador City.


(Earlier story)

Wabush Mayor Ron Barron says the forest fire that forced residents of his community to evacuate is still out of control and that it’s not safe for people to go home.

In a news release issued following a Sunday morning briefing at the emergency operations centre in the community, Barron said the Department of Natural Resources has additional resources on the ground today and plans to use them to fight the fire.

The forest fire in western Labrador has been burning since last weekend. Barron said concerns were expressed this morning that first responders and volunteers working to suppress the fire may be getting tired.

Fire chiefs with the Labrador City Fire Department and the Wabush Fire Department were scheduled to meet this morning and offer recommendations to a planning group. Barron expects additional resources will be needed.

The community was evacuated due to air quality concerns stemming from the presence of heavy smoke.

In a special weather statement issued shortly before noon on Sunday, Environment Canada said smoke conditions are expected to improve in the afternoon “as winds strengthen from the west.”

In Labrador City, 1,682 registrations have been made for evacuated residents. Forty of those registrations were by phone.

There are still some people staying in Wabush, where a boil order is also in place. Barron said the Royal Newfoundland Constabulary has helped deliver to those residents.

Heavy equipment operators are still building firebreaks to help protect Wabush, and the Trans Labrador Highway remains closed in the area.

Another briefing is scheduled to take place late Sunday afternoon.


(Earlier version)

Fire and Emergency Services-NL (FES-NL) advises that approximately 1,400 people from the evacuated community of Wabush have registered at the reception area inside the Labrador City Arts and Culture Centre.

In a news release issued Saturday afternoon, the government agency said air quality remains an issue as smoke from a large forest fire in the arrow continues wreak havoc. Smoke has made it difficult for aircraft to operate in the area, according to FES-NL. A firebreak is also being built for added protection to the community.

Seventy-nine people remain in Wabush, but FES-NL said emergency personnel are in regular contact with those individuals. The fire has not grown significantly since last night, based on an assessment made this morning. It is still four kilometres from Wabush.

Meanwhile, Bell Aliant has determined that a fibre optic line break in the fire zone is affecting landline service in the area. FES-NL advises the utility company expects that will take considerable time to fix.


(Earlier story)

The mayor of Wabush says he does not know when residents of the evacuated community will be able to return home.

A large forest fire that started last weekend and continues to burn in western Labrador forced the town to declare a state of emergency Friday night and issue a mandatory evacuation order.

In a news release issued shortly before noon on Saturday, Mayor Ron Barron said more than 1,300 people have registered at the Labrador City Arts and Culture Centre.

The Canadian Red Cross said most evacuees who have registered with the organization have indicated they are staying with relatives, friends, or strangers who have offered them spare rooms. The Iron Ore Company of Canada has offered its vacant bunkhouses to people temporarily displaced by the evacuation order.

Barron said evacuees are also using 45 rooms at the Labrador Lodge.

The mayor said the airport in Wabush remains open and that only officials involved with essential services and first responders are allowed to remain in the community.  A boil order was issued Saturday morning in Wabush

The Trans Labrador Highway, closed through most of the forest fire, has not reopened.

Issues with phone lines in the area have disabled 911 services. For emergencies, people in Wabush can use a cellphone to call 280-9011, while people in Labrador City can all 944-7602 from a landline. Digital cellphone users are asked to call 280-2841.

Evacuees who have not registered with the Canadian Red Cross can call 758-816 to leave a message with volunteers based in St. John’s. They are asked to leave a message. Family members may also use that number to relay messages to loved ones in western Labrador.

The Red Cross has 44 volunteers and one staff member in the area to help support the community’s plight. Supplies are also being flown to the area from Nova Scotia and elsewhere in Newfoundland and Labrador.

People with pets have been asked to go to the Labrador City Arena before proceeding to the Arts and Culture Centre.


(Earlier story)

Provincial fire duty officer Eric Earle says a preliminary assessment Saturday morning of a large forest fire that warranted a mandatory evacuation of Wabush found that it was still approximately 4 kilometres from the community.

“Overnight, the fire … it moved very little, so that’s good news,” said Earle.

However, there was a lot of smoke in areas impacted by fire. The smoke has also spread to Wabush.

Wind direction is expected to play a factor in how today goes for combating the blaze. Earle said winds were expected to travel from the southeast, sending smoke from the fire into Wabush.

The amount of smoke present had an early impact on suppression efforts from above. Earle said it was not safe to have waterbombers and helicopters operating in those conditions, with visibility non-existent.

However, a waterbomber was able to work on the fire by mid-morning Saturday, and a second waterbomber was expected to fly shortly thereafter, according to Earle. He said helicopters would join efforts to fight the fire once it is deemed safe to do so.

Crews are focusing on the western flank of the forest fire closest to Wabush. Earle said the cottage area of Cowboy Creek also remained a priority for fire suppression activities, though a new assessment of the area was needed as of Saturday morning.

By noon Saturday, Environment Canada reported a temperature of 17 C at Wabush Airport.

Between two and four millimetres of rain is forecast for Saturday. Earle said the rain will help the situation, but it will not “put this to rest by any means.”

Heavy equipment operators are building a firebreak to help protect the community, and Earle said their efforts should be commended.

Meanwhile, Newfoundland and Labrador Hydro has issued an advisory that says the fire could cause power outages in western Labrador. It said to ensure public safety, electricity service may be temporarily suspended in the area. It said further updates wouldl be made available if the situation escalates.


(Earlier story)

The Canadian Red Cross reports that 1,300 people have registered with the organization as of 8 a.m. Saturday following Friday night’s mandatory evacuation order.

People from Wabush have been asked to register at the Labrador City Arts and Culture Centre. Vacant bunkhouses owned by the Iron Ore Company of Canada are being used to accommodate people who need a place to stay.

In a news release issued Saturday morning, the Town of Wabush said the Red Cross is establishing a telephone number to handle registration for residents of Wabush who are away from the area.

People living in Wabush can use a cellphone to call 280-9011 in the event of an emergency, while those in Labrador City can call landline-to-landline at 944-7602. Digital cellphone users in the area can call 280-2841.

A further update is expected following a Saturday morning briefing. The provincial fire duty officer was taking part in a conference call when contacted by The Telegram that morning.


(Earlier story)

An evacuation order has been issued for the Town of Wabush as of 9 p.m. local time.

Residents are being notified on a street-by-street basis, in a phased evacuation by the town.

About 1,800 residents are expected to be moved from their homes.

All evacuees are asked to check-in at the Labrador City Arts and Culture Centre.

Labrador City officials have been preparing for the evacuation and the Red Cross is on site in Labrador City.

Would be volunteers can also check in at the Labrador City Arts and Culture Centre.

According to a notice issued by Fire and Emergency Services, the weather forecast for Saturday was not looking good at the time of the decision to evacuate, particularly the forecasted wind speeds and direction.


(Earlier story)

A fire continuing to burn in Labrador west has covered 6,500 hectares, according to a representative for the Department of Natural Resources.

The representative has confirmed government response teams have focused on keeping the fire from reaching any closer to the Town of Wabush.

People within the town have been told to be prepared for an evacuation but, as of this update at 12:30 p.m., no evacuation order has been given.

The Department of Natural Resources has issued a ban on outdoor fires and use of fireworks in Labrador West.

The Telegram has been told people in Labrador should expect to see that ban extended to the whole of the Big Land, considering the high risk of fire held within the current warm and dry conditions and the need to keep fire response focused around Wabush.

The fire now plaguing Labrador West began in the Moosehead Lake area and has been burning since Sunday.

It was not the first fire to start that day, according to Eric Earle, a duty officer with the Department of Natural Resources.

A waterbomber knocked down one fire earlier in the day, he said, ground crews dealt with a second, but — even though a waterbomber was in the air and reached the Moosehead Lake fire quickly — it grew out of control.

The number of waterbombers working the fire was increased to two on the first day, assisted by helicopters with water buckets and ground crews.

Four waterbombers have been working in Labrador since Wednesday. Only two of those are typically stationed in Labrador, with the others brought in for the added response.

Local cabin areas at Moosehead Lake, Cowboy Creek and Blueberry Hill were initial priority areas for protection, but cabins have been lost.

The fire’s continuation was aided by dry conditions and winds gusting to 60 kilometres per hour at times, Earle said.

He added the focus is now on protection of Wabush, lying along what firefighters have seen as a six-to-eight-kilometre “western flank” of the fire.

“Today is going to be a very important day,” Earle said.

The Department of Natural Resources will be looking to knock the fire down and keep it from the town, with the hope of seeing help from a small amount of rain Saturday evening.

Winds are in the favour of firefighters, pressing Southwest.

“We’ll be sending (the waterbombers) up in tandem, two at a time, whenever possible,” he said.

The department is also trying to keep the fire back from the highway, with the RNC still monitoring the closed route.

The area of the fire remains a no-fly zone, Earle said, saying there is a need to keep the skies a clear and allow the department to do its work.

“What we’re doing now is we’re bringing in additional staff from the island,” he said, explaining there will be a change-out of fatigued responders.

The Town of Wabush, meanwhile, will be issuing any evacuation order if it is found to be needed. People in the town are being told to keep their windows closed in the meantime and turn off air conditioners.

(Earlier story)

Cliff Resources has provided two pieces of heavy equipment to create a “fire break” and help protect the Town of Wabush from a forest fire that has burned within about four kilometres of the town.

The construction work is a backup support to the already existing response with provincial waterbombers. A spokesman for Fire and Emergency Services said residents can expect to see increased air activity including waterbomber planes and helicopters throughout today.

Fire and Emergency Services has been acting as a co-ordinator internally, while the municipality and Department of Natural Resources have led response on the ground and by air.

Meanwhile, the two operating the D8 Caterpillar shovels from Cliff Resources were taken up in a Department of Natural Resources helicopter prior to the start of their work, to get a look at where the fire break is expected to be cut.

The machines will be used to flatten an area 200-300 metres wide and 3/4 of a mile to a mile long, according to Mayor Ron Barron, who spoke with The Telegram shortly after 11 a.m.

The mayor said the companies active in and around the town, at the core of the Labrador West mining boom, were more than willing to assist in staving of the fire and preparing, in case winds pick up and things get worse.

“We’ve been inundated with people wanting to help — the companies with equipment, volunteer groups, Canadian Rangers, just everybody is willing to help,” he said.

He cautioned people to stay away from the area of the fire.

“That could come on you right quick if the winds change,” Barron said.

The town is also advising residents to keep their windows closed and turn off any air conditioners. “Anyone with respiratory conditions should contact their family doctors,” states the latest notice, issued by the municipality this morning.

The town has previously told residents to prepare a to-go kit, to be ready in case of an evacuation order.

In the case of an evacuation, everyone from the town is asked to check in and register at the Labrador City Arts and Culture Centre, so officials can provide information in the case of fears of a missing person or other emergency concern.



(Earlier story)

Heavy equipment operators are busy trying to establish a fire break to help protect people, homes and businesses in Wabush from a forest fire that continues to rage in Labrador west.

While the fire created a frightening spectacle for people in Wabush last night — as pitch smoke created an early dark and the flames stood out in the darkness — the view has changed somewhat into the morning hours, according to local residents speaking with The Telegram as of 10:30 a.m.

That said, one town official has said winds are picking up again and more smoke is becoming visible, so residents still need to be prepared in the case of an evacuation.

“Last night it was horrifying. There was hundreds and hundreds of people out there looking at the fire and it seemed like it was a rock throw away,” said Suzanne Reid, who is working a normal shift today at the Mike Adam Recreation Complex.

“If you were here right now, it is absolutely, I can tell you, the most beautiful looking day out there you could imagine. ... But last night, because you could see it and the smoke was coming in ... you couldn’t see across the street. You didn’t know that Wabush Mines existed. That’s how bad it was.”

The Town of Wabush has issued a stand-by notice to residents, with Mayor Ron Barron telling people to pull together a “to go” kit with their needed medications, a change of clothing, cell phone charger and cash in case an evacuation order is issued.

The notice was issued by the town by recommendation of the Department of Natural Resources.

The Telegram has attempted to reach a representative for provincial Fire and Emergency Services about the response to the fire and will post further information when it becomes available. Other than an advisory not to light fires, there has been no word on response from the provincial government.

The Town of Wabush, meanwhile, has just issued its second advisory to residents, now posted on its website, explaining about the fire break being constructed. The mayor has been out at site to be briefed on plans for the wall and other protection measures.

There have been a few calls to the town office from individuals who may need assistance in the case of an evacuation order.

Public notices are being issued in a door to door process as much as possible, in an attempt by the town to reach all residents — including those without phone or internet access.


(Earlier story)

Wabush Mayor Ron Barron has issued an advisory that the town may be forced to evacuate because of a forest fire in Labrador west that’s still burning out of control, but no action is being taken at this time.

“On the recommendation of the Department of Natural Resources, the Town of Wabush advises that it may be necessary to evacuate the Town because of the current forest fire,” Barron said in an advisory to residents. “This is a standby notice only and no action is needed other than to prepare a ‘to go” kit.’”

That kit should include the following:

1. Medications;

2. Change of clothing;

3. Diapers and formula for infants;

4. Bank card, cash;

5. Cell phone and charge.

Should the evacuation be necessary, the Arts and Cultural Centre in Labrador City will function as the reception dentre.

If an evacuation notice is given, residents will be asked to register at the reception centre so their location will be known.

They area also advised to bring pets with them, so appropriate actions can be taken and bring animal carriers, cages and food.

In the event of an evacuation notice, citizens who cannot self evacuate should call the Town of Wabush at 282-5696.

The mayor said it is important to note this is an advisory only and no action is necessary at this time.

The Trans-Labrador Highway remains closed.