6 forest fires burning in N.L. as fire ban implemented in St. John's area

·5 min read
Smoke hangs in the air in Conception Bay South Sunday as a forest fire burns nearby.  (Henrike Wilhelm/CBC - image credit)
Smoke hangs in the air in Conception Bay South Sunday as a forest fire burns nearby. (Henrike Wilhelm/CBC - image credit)
Henrike Wilhelm/CBC
Henrike Wilhelm/CBC

Firefighters are on the move across the province Tuesday, getting ready to assess and battle six forest fires in eastern Newfoundland from Conception Bay South to Terra Nova.

That comes as major municipalities on the Avalon Peninsula have issued fire bans preventing people from having open fires or lighting fire pits, charcoal barbecues and chimineas to prevent the possibility of further fires.

The provincial forest fire duty officer, Colin Carroll, believes a series of lightning strikes started the majority of the forest fires, which sparked up after 3 p.m. Monday amid dry ground conditions and fire indices ranging from very high to extreme.

The largest forest fire, near Lake St. John, is 50 hectares, or the equivalent of 123 football fields. It is out of control and burning near some cabins in a remote area south of Thorburn Lake.

"Last night we noticed some smoke there when our tankers were actually heading back to Gander to refuel. So we quickly got over there in a chopper and did a quick assessment, and noticed the size of the fire was big," Carroll said on CBC Radio's The St. John's Morning Show.

Water bombers on red alert

Carroll said three water bombers soaked the Lake St. John fire before darkness fell to extinguish open flames and 10 firefighters were on the way to the area Tuesday to douse remaining hot spots.

"Our tankers are all on red alert. One in St. John's, two in Gander, and they're ready to go if we need them," he said.

Also south of Thorburn Lake, Carroll says there are two more forest fires burning close together near some cabins. The fire is 12 hectares, but Carroll said the risk associated with it is decreasing.

A fire in Upper Gullies in Conception Bay South, which drew a lot of attention Sunday, is now 90 per cent contained, Carroll said. He said that fire flared up Monday night, but was stamped out with a couple of drops from a water bomber.

Carroll says the risk from that fire has now significantly decreased and crews from Paddy's Pond are in the area today to continue the cleanup.

Henrike WIlhelm/CBC
Henrike WIlhelm/CBC

There is a smaller 2.5 hectare fire burning near Trinity that remains out of control, even though there are no open flames. Carroll says four firefighters, a pump unit and water bomber worked on that fire Monday and staff will continue to work on hot spots Tuesday.

A small fire in Sweet Bay on the Bonavista Peninsula is under control after a water bomber saturated it. Carroll says that fire is along the edge of a small peninsula and has nowhere else to spread.

Carroll says Parks Canada staff in Terra Nova also controlled a small fire.

However, Carroll says he does expect some fires to flare up today if the wind picks up, and he's hoping rain forecast for Tuesday afternoon and evening will help.

"We're hopeful that we get the millimetres that we need," he said, adding that higher rainfall amounts above five millimetres would be the most beneficial. However, there are thunderstorms forecast for parts of central Newfoundland, which could ignite more fires, but Carroll says they're watching things closely.

"If we have choppers or tankers in the air, they're always scanning the horizon and looking for any new lights and new smoke plumes," he said.

There have been 51 forest fires, burning nearly 800 hectares of land, recorded in the province so far this year, compared to a total of 85 fires in 2021 from May to the end of September.

Fire ban, water conservation orders

The St. John's Regional Fire Department issued a fire ban Tuesday covering St. John's, Mount Pearl and Paradise. It prohibits open files, including ones in fire pits and chimineas.

"Fires will start very easily, and what they will do then is they will spread very fast,"  said deputy fire chief Robert Fowler.

Fowler says they're concerned about grass and foliage igniting due to hot, dry weather. Fowler said fighting those kinds of fires is taxing for crews.

"They're working in those extreme conditions … it's a safety issue, the exhaustion factor, it's dragging the hose up through the woods, fighting the fire, moving the brush around, you're dealing with rough terrain and uneven terrain," he said.

Radio-Canada
Radio-Canada

Meanwhile many municipalities on the northeast Avalon have issued water conservation orders on Friday that said the regional water supply servicing St. John's, Paradise, Mount Pearl, and Portugal Cove-St. Philip's was experiencing a higher than usual demand.

The conservation order limits when people can water lawns and how they can wash vehicles.

Summer warmer, drier in some places

David Neil, warning preparedness meteorologist for Newfoundland and Labrador, said the first part of the summer so far has been warmer, with an above average number of days above 20 degrees, but no record breaking temperatures yet.

"Much of the island came in generally a degree and a half to two and a half degrees above their normal," Neil said about the weather in June.

So far in July, Neil said St. John's and Gander are on track to have an above average number of days over 20 degrees, as well.

Meanwhile Neil said last month was drier than average, as most of the province got far less rain than usual.

So far in July, he said St. John's has received less than 17 mm of rain, in a month that normally sees more than 90 mm. However, Neil said Deer Lake, Stephenville and Goose Bay have seen nearly their normal rainfall totals already.

The forest fires in this province are burning as southern Europe is experiencing an unprecedented heatwave, where temperatures are expected to breach 40 C in the U.K. Tuesday for the first time, after the country experienced its warmest night on record.

Meanwhile, wildfires sweeping through Portugal, Spain and France have killed some people, and forced thousands of others to evacuate their homes.

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