Two out-of-control wildfires in central Newfoundland covered more than 200 square kilometres on Wednesday morning, and Environment Canada warned the flames could cover much of the island in smoke.
Jeff Motty, the province’s forest fire duty officer, says the latest estimates suggest the largest fire now encompasses an area of about 170 square kilometres – up from about 106 square kilometres the day before. The second fire, which is burning nearby and is next to the Bay d’Espoir Highway, covers an area of nearly 58 square kilometres, Motty said in an interview Wednesday, adding that smoke has abated somewhat and allowed for better estimates.
There are cabins within the perimeter of the largest fire, and some are in danger, he said.
“But just because your cabin is within the fire perimeter, does not mean it’s burnt,” Motty said. Water bombers were out Wednesday morning dousing the flames as much as they could, and Motty said crews could soon be able to assess the local cabins, as long as smoke conditions allow.
Officials over a week ago began asking cabin owners in the area to leave and stay away. Motty said he has been in regular contact with owners.
Environment Canada issued air quality warnings for a large swath of Newfoundland Wednesday, stretching from the central region to the west coast, including the Gros Morne area and the Port-aux-Basque region, on the island’s southwestern tip.
The Bay d’Espoir Highway would remain open on Wednesday, though officials would reassess conditions on Thursday, Transportation Minister Elvis Loveless said in a Facebook post. “We all know things can change, but as of right now conditions are favourable for today and no closure anticipated,” Loveless wrote.
Parts of central Newfoundland, including the town of Grand Falls-Windsor, remained under a state of emergency Wednesday. So, too, did parts of the island’s southern coast, which had been cut off from the rest of the province until the Bay d’Espoir Highway reopened Tuesday morning.
The 200-kilometre-long highway is the only road connecting communities in the Coast of Bays and Connaigre Peninsula areas with the Trans-Canada Highway, which cuts lengthwise across the island and connects its major towns and cities. With the road closed, transport trucks couldn’t deliver groceries or supplies to stores in the region.
Sabrina Loveless was waiting on tenterhooks for the highway decision on Wednesday morning. Loveless owns a small grocery store and gas station in the remote community of Seal Cove, which sits near the terminus of the Connaigre Peninsula.
The shelves at Seal Cove Grocery had been growing bare, but a transport truck was able to make it to the community Tuesday night with her milk and dairy order, Loveless said in an interview Wednesday. The delivery brought a much-needed sense of normalcy to the town’s 175 residents, she added.
“They’ve been in first thing this morning to buy their milk,” Loveless said. “They’re lifted up in spirits.”
Loveless said she was expecting bread and other groceries to arrive later on Wednesday. The goods would either be flown by helicopter into the region and trucked to her or they would arrive on another transport truck if the highway stayed open, she said.
Forestry officials have said the fires in central Newfoundland were started on June 24 by lightning.
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