The Newfoundland and Labrador government has declared a state of emergency in parts of central Newfoundland as forest fires continue to rage out of control.
The state of emergency covers the Grand Falls-Windsor, Bishop’s Falls and Connaigre Peninsula areas.
In a video statement posted to social media Saturday night, Premier Andrew Furey called it the worst fire situation in Newfoundland since 1961, and said while the fires aren’t threatening communities at the moment, “the wind is changing and the pattern of smoke distribution will change significantly.”
“This is a dynamic situation,” he said, flanked in the video by Forestry Minister Derek Bragg and incident commander Jason Glode.
Furey said they’ve asked the Central Health region to create an evacuation plan for its hospitals, long-term care homes, and personal care homes should the need arise, and people living in the affected communities should also be on alert for possible evacuation.
“We don’t want to create panic, but we need to act in a responsible fashion given the current threat level,” he said.
In a tweet on Saturday night, federal Emergency Preparedness Minister Bill Blair said he had approved the Newfoundland and Labrador government’s request for help from the Canadian Forces. Blair said personnel will help “plan and co-ordinate evacuation and movement operations from affected areas.”
I have approved a Request for Federal Assistance from <a href=”https://twitter.com/GovNL?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>@GovNL</a> in response to active wildfires in the province. Our <a href=”https://twitter.com/CanadianForces?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>@CanadianForces</a> personnel will work with provincial and municipal officials to plan and coordinate evacuation and movement operations from affected areas.
The fires in central Newfoundland have been burning for two weeks, and the largest, near the Bay d’Espoir Highway, has forced the ongoing closure of the only road in and out of the Connaigre Peninsula.
In Saturday night’s video statement, Bragg said officials are concerned that given the forecasted weather conditions, that fire will combine with another burning nearby at Paradise Lake.
“We may see the fire run as much as 10 kilometres,” said Glode. “This puts us in approximately 10 to 15 kilometres from Grand Falls-Windsor, and our major concern would be smoke, but also embers and hot ashes and stuff falling on properties.”
Sunday afternoon in central Newfoundland, temperatures could reach a high of 28 C, and winds could be gusting to 35 kilometres an hour.
Glode is asking people in the affected communities to “fire smart” their properties — including cutting grass, clearing mulch and any flammable materials from around their property, and trimming any trees leaning against their homes.
Glode said crews are building a firebreak along the province’s transmission lines.
“That’s our line of defence in terms of impacted communities, if the fire should get to that point,” he said.
Environment Canada has issued an air quality statement for northeastern Newfoundland, including Grand Falls-Windsor, Clarenville, the Bonavista Peninsula and the Terra Nova area.