Lightning sparks new fires in Labrador, raising total to 7, with all but 1 out of control

Provincial forest fire duty officer Bryan Oke believes the next few days will be busy as they monitor the ongoing fires in Labrador.
Provincial forest fire duty officer Bryan Oke says the next few days will be busy as they monitor fires in Labrador. (Submitted by Tryone Ball)

With seven wildfires burning in Labrador, six of them out of control, a provincial official says they're keeping an eye on the situation, both on the ground and from the air.

The provincial fire hazard risk advisory lists the areas around Happy Valley-Goose Bay, Northwest River and up to Rigolet as under extreme fire warnings. Churchill Falls is under a very high warning.

"I'm anticipating it's going to be a busy couple of days, especially with the lightning in the area. So I encourage the public to remain vigilant," provincial forest fire duty officer Bryan Oke told CBC News on Friday.

There are more than 14,000 hectares affected by the fires, he said.

"With the amount of activity here in the last couple of days, most fires — all fires — will be listed [as] out of control until we get an opportunity to suppress those fires and containing the boundaries and then go through the various levels of suppression."

Oke said their priority is the Churchill Falls area because of the community and the airport. Crews prioritize their response to fires based on risk to public safety, he said.

"We do anticipate for there to be smoke throughout the area today and around the airport area, which may impact air traffic," he said.

One fire burning near Newfoundland and Labrador Hydro's Menihek Dam is affecting railway service but there's been no damage, he said.

There are currently seven fires burning in Labrador, six of which are listed as out-of-control.
There are seven fires burning in Labrador, six of them listed as out of control. (Submitted by Tryone Ball)

The Trans-Labrador Highway to Labrador West is open but Oke said that could change throughout the day depending on the fire.

"We'll currently be evaluating that again this morning to determine the traffic abilities here today."

He added police may help co-ordinate traffic, road closures or evacuations if they are needed.

A fire near Milner Lake West, about 100 kilometres north of Labrador City, is also listed as out of control. It's a larger fire, he said, but it's in a remote area.

Lightning causes more fires

Oke said lightning in the area caused four new fires Thursday evening. Crews are on site evaluating them.

He said conditions in the area are dry. Rain is anticipated Friday afternoon but so is more lightning, which is common in the area this time of year, he added.

"We'll be paying close attention to today as the day progresses," said Oke.

At the moment, he said, provincial crews have the resources they need to contain the fires. With no fires currently burning in Newfoundland, the province's four water bombers are in Labrador, he said.

Three are being used today near the active fires in the Churchill Falls area and Wabush, said Oke, but that could change as priorities shift.

Water bombers will be in the area for the next few days and even weeks, depending on fire activity, he said.

A typical fire season will see about 100 starts by this time of year, said Oke, but things are slower in 2024 with 20 wildfire starts so far. But that could change quickly, depending on the weather, he said.

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