Labrador evacuees likely another night away from home

Fire and emergency services officials anticipate fire evacuees in two central Labrador communities will have to spend another night away from home, but some residents are ignoring the request and are returning home.

More than 1,500 people from North West River and Sheshatshiu were ordered to leave their homes Saturday night because of a wildfire that broke out about 40 km from the communities, on the north side of Grand Lake.

While most residents left, some decided to remain in the communities.

Greg Pastitshi, with the Sheshatshiu Band Council, was one of those who stayed in Sheshatshiu. He said the community was filled with smoke on Sunday morning.

"The smoke is starting to get a little bit thick and you can smell it," Pastitshi told CBC News.

"We think there might be less than 100 people in the community."

By Sunday afternoon, RCMP encouraged residents to stay in the Happy Valley-Goose Bay area for another night.

In a written statement, the provincial government said the road to North West River and Sheshatshiu has been closed to the general public.

However, RCMP Cpl. Rick Mills, said upwards of 200 people have returned to the two evacuated communities.

RCMP cannot forcibly remove residents from their homes or stop them from returning.

"If people decide to stay, we can't force them out," said Mills.

"We will encourage them as best we can, it's for their own personal safety. However, at the end of the day, again if they choose not to move, we'll take their names and their location and we'll keep a record of that," said Mills.

Some residents who stayed in the community have their boats ready for a quick escape, in the event the situation deteriorates.

North West River Mayor Ernie McLean said the evacuation went as smoothly as could be expected.

"All last week we were in preparation mode for if this order came," said McLean.

"It's not an easy decision to make but we were ready for it and I think it was very orderly because of the preparation time we had last week."

About 700 people from North West River and Sheshatshiu were put up in the barracks at 5 Wing Goose Bay overnight.

Bernadine Milley stayed at the facility with her two sons.

"It was tiring, exhausting," said Milley.

"We didn't have time to pack a bag, we had to get over to get gas. We just took what we needed, clothing, and just left cause the smoke was getting really thick," she said.

"But it was all right … we never got to bed till 3:30 or 4:00 this morning," said Milley.

Those who stayed at the barracks were given personal items such as toiletries. They also got a big breakfast served by staff, with about 60 kg of bacon cooked for the crowd.

Firefighters have held the fire that was threatening the communities in the same position it was last night, 38 km from North West River.

Meanwhile, crews have been busy battling blazes both large and small, including one near Muskrat Falls, which is now contained, and another, close to Charlottetown on Labrador's southern coast, which is now burning away from the community.

Temperatures are forecast to be in the mid-20s, with no chance of rain until late in the week.

Philip Earle, the CEO of Air Labrador, said Sunday his pilots have seen dozens of fires burning in Labrador over the past three weeks, which has been marked by some of the hottest temperatures in Canada and very little rain.

"Our guys and girls are out there crisscrossing the Big Land every day," said Earle, referring to the nickname many residents use to describe Labrador, a landmass bigger than the Maritimes.

"The reports we're getting back [are] this place is on fire. Within a 100-mile radius of Happy Valley–Goose Bay, North West River and Sheshatshiu, there's probably 30 fires that are burning in various stages, some of them are large, some of them are small," he said.

"Now what we're seeing is to the south of Happy Valley–Goose Bay, we're seeing fires popping up in that area," added Earle.

The Town of Happy Valley-Goose Bay has set up a hotline for the members of the general public requiring more information: 709-896-3321.

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