Fire crews make progress against Bay d'Espoir Highway fire

·3 min read
A firefighter works to control the Bay d'Espoir Highway fire, which has been burning since Sunday. (Department of Fisheries, Forestry and Agriculture/Twitter - image credit)
A firefighter works to control the Bay d'Espoir Highway fire, which has been burning since Sunday. (Department of Fisheries, Forestry and Agriculture/Twitter - image credit)

Firefighters have made some headway in containing a fire raging near the Bay d'Espoir Highway.

In an update Wednesday afternoon, the provincial Forestry Department said the fire, which has forced the intermittent closure of the only road in and out of the Connaigre Peninsula, is now seven per cent contained.

The highway connects thousands of people to the rest of Newfoundland and Labrador. It reopened around 8 NT Wednesday morning, according to provincial forest fire duty officer Bryan Oke.

As of Wednesday afternoon, there was one helicopter, 29 firefighters and eight pump units trying to fully contain the fire.

"That's typical, especially given magnitude and size of this fire," said Oke, who added crews need to get the large fire surrounded before it can be considered contained.

The highway was closed overnight because crews and helicopters were not available to determine if the road was safe for drivers to navigate in the dark. Police closed the road Sunday when the fire broke out after lightning moved through the area. Traffic started flowing through the area intermittently on Monday evening, and the road reopened to more traffic Tuesday.

Oke says they've revised the size of the fire by using a global positioning system to get a more accurate measure. He said the forest fire covers 751 hectares — larger than 1,800 football fields. He said they originally used thermal imaging to estimate the size of the fire, and smoke skewed the reading, giving them an estimate of just over 1,000 hectares.

"Yesterday afternoon the smoke had subsided so there was an opportunity there to go in and GPS the boundaries and get a more precise boundary location. That's typical for fires during the initial start and trying to capture and quantify the fire size," said Oke.

The fire is one of five active forest fires in the province — at Paradise Lake, Deer Pond and in two places near Newton Lake.

A fire at Conway Lake that had been on the list earlier Wednesday is no longer listed as active.

People from the Connaigre Peninsula were stranded on the north side of the highway blockade when the road was closed, and some even spent nights sleeping in their vehicles, trying to get home to the island's south coast.

The fire has also cut people off from medical care at the hospital in Grand Falls-Windsor. In an email, Central Health says the air ambulance was used once during the highway closure to take two patients to hospital.

There is currently no doctor at the peninsula's heath centre due to staffing shortages. In a posting to its website, Central Health said the emergency room is closed until Thursday at 8 a.m. NT. The health authority had offered a virtual emergency room during the road closure.

Oke said the number of forest fires in the province this year is comparable to last year. There have been 60 recorded so far in 2022, compared with 57 for the same period in 2021, but he said the amount of land burned this year is significantly higher.

"Currently this year we have 2,617 hectares burnt, whereas the total for last year's year to date was 308 hectares," he said.

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

Our goal is to create a safe and engaging place for users to connect over interests and passions. In order to improve our community experience, we are temporarily suspending article commenting