Downed waterbomber to be removed from lake, government says

Staff ~ The Telegram
Published on July 5, 2013
A water bomber fighting the forest fire in Labrador West prepares to land to refuel. There’s another water bomber on the way to help suppress the blaze, Wabush’s mayor says. — Photo by Neil Simmons/Special to The Telegram

Three water bombers worked Thursday to suppress a forest fire in western Labrador — the same number of planes that had been on the job prior to one being put out of service after an accident that left it in a lake.

The pilot and co-pilot were not injured.

After the accident, the province tasked another waterbomber to the area.

Wabush Mayor Ron Barron — his town after being forced to evacuate for two days last week because of the fire — says the replacement plane was needed.

It remained warm and dry in western Labrador on Thursday, with winds gusting westerly in a direction that was favourable for Wabush.

A spokesman for the Department of Transportation and Works said it was working on a plan to retrieve the Bombardier 415 water bomber from Moosehead Lake. He said it is not known how long that process might take.

The Bombardier plane is one of four new water bombers purchased in recent years by the province at a cost of $120 million.

As of late Thursday afternoon, three water bombers, five helicopters, 34 personnel and an incident management team were tasked with responding to the forest fire.

A news release issued Wednesday by the Department of Transportation and Works said the pilot and co-pilot were not injured during Wednesday’s incident.

Meanwhile, the Royal Newfoundland Constabulary elected to suspend traffic escorts along the Trans-Labrador Highway on Thursday because of the fire. The RNC said the decision was made for the safety of both the public and crews in the area working to suppress the fire.

Provincial duty officer Eric Earle, who is now in Labrador, told The Telegram during a very brief conversation Thursday that crews were operating in full suppression mode.

The estimated 17,000-hectare fire remained out of control according to a Department of Natural Resources website offering updates on active forest fires. There was a flare-up overnight within the fire zone’s perimeter that reportedly made the flames visible from Wabush, though the website advised the fire did not pose a threat to the community given the direction of the wind.

Barron confirmed those flames could be spotted from the community.

“With the dry conditions and the strong winds we have here, that’s what we’re probably going to be seeing until we get some rain.”

While he feels Wabush is safe, Barron said concerns remain for cabin owners with property in the fire zone. He added winds could still pick up and cause the fire to flare up and expand.

An alert advisory remained in effect for the community requiring residents to have bags packed to be prepared for the possibility another evacuation is ordered.

A non-consumption order remains in effect pertaining to the community’s water supply. Barron said there were some issues with water quality tests conducted earlier this week requiring the town to start the process over.

“The testing they had done, we found out it wasn’t the correct testing,” he said. “Normally, it’s only a boil order that’s in effect, but this was a non-consumption order that was put in place, and there’s different criteria that we have to do.”

Smoke that recently crept into Wabush is not related to the local forest fire. It’s said to originate from Quebec. In a special weather statement, Environment Canada said air quality in central and western Labrador “has noticeably deteriorated to the point it poses a risk to health.”

It added that a general westerly flow likely means air quality will remain poor in the area for the next few days.

Labrador-Grenfell Health issued an advisory Thursday asking people in western Labrador and other parts of Labrador and the Northern Peninsula to take precautions against the potential health risks of poor air quality.

It advised people with asthma, heart conditions and lung conditions are at a greater risk of feeling the effects of forest fire smoke, and said they should watch for any change in symptoms.

The Department of Natural Resources reported that visibility had improved in the area and that ground crews were focused on extinguishing hot spots.

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