Perth-Andover fire contained, evacuation order lifted

Crews continued to battle hot spots in the Perth-Andover area Thursday.

Residents of Perth-Andover were breathing a sigh of relief on Thursday night after an evacuation order for about 300 people was lifted.

They had been told to leave their homes as a precautionary measure late Wednesday after a huge fire broke out in a heavily wooded area in the northwestern village.

The Anglophone West schools of Andover Elementary School, Perth-Andover Middle School, and Southern Victoria High School were also closed Thursday as a precaution.

The fire burned about 105 hectares.

But by Thursday afternoon, firefighters were getting the upper hand and the fire is now contained.

No homes were damaged and no injuries reported.

Smoke was first spotted in the hills about 4 p.m. AT Wednesday and Roger Jenkins, a 37-year veteran with the provincial Department of Natural Resources was one of the first on the scene.

"When we looked up in through here, the smoke by then was starting to take off," said Jenkins. "So Rick looked at me and he said, 'Should we stay?' And I said, 'No, I don't think we should.'"

Within the next hour, flames were shooting from the tops of the trees, said Guy Lavasseur, another DNR officer. The fire was so intense and fast-moving that it skipped over gullies and spread quickly, he said.

"We had high-intensity flames that were 15 metres above the trees and it was going faster with the wind we had."

DNR started fighting the fire from the air with water bombers, helicopters and a huge CL415 aircraft from Quebec.

Gaston Cloutier was one of about 20 firefighters who fought the blaze. "Oh big flames. It was a big fire," he said. "Big flare ups and everything there."

Cloutier and a team of forest rangers from Edmundston, Plaster Rock and Grand Falls continued to put out hotspots into the evening.

Perth-Andover Mayor Terry Ritchie said people living near Tobique First Nation left their homes overnight because of the nearby blaze.

"It raged up," he said. "You could see it really burning, like the whole mountain was on fire."

Ritchie said residents in nearby Craig Flats were also warned to prepare for evacuations if necessary.

The Red Cross opened reception centres for evacuees at the Mah-sos school on Tobique First Nation and at the River Valley Civic Centre in Perth-Andover.

A health advisory was issued for residents with breathing difficulties because of the smoke hanging in the air.

"We sent police around to some of the outlying communities," said Ritchie. "We knocked on doors until 3:30 in the morning, so that took a lot of understanding from people."

Ritchie said the fire appeared to be running out of fuel by Thursday morning. He was hopeful rain in the forecast would take care of the rest and allow residents to return to their homes.

Meanwhile, fires in Kedgwick and McKees Mill are now contained.

A fire that burned across 140 hectares of land in the Petitcodiac area and destroyed two homes and a cottage was also brought under control.

Fire crews remained on the ground, putting out hot spots.

Further north in the Kedgwick, crews also have a handle on the fire that burned through 75 hectares. That blaze forced the evacuation of two dozen homes for several hours Wednesday night.

Charlie Beaulieu, a fire-prevention officer with the Department of Natural Resources, said the entire province is under a burn ban and asked people to not burn grass.

There have been nearly 300 fires since mid-April, and almost all have been started by people. Last year saw 222 fires by mid-May.

"We're above last year's total," he said. "Grass is our biggest enemy in spring. It dries up quickly and spreads quickly."

DNR has issued 124 tickets since April for burning grass or brush.

The hot and dry conditions are creating ideal conditions for fires.