Relief in central Newfoundland as largest forest fires in decades are contained

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ST. JOHN'S, N.L. — The biggest forest fires to burn on the island of Newfoundland in decades are now contained, provincial forest fire duty officer Mark Lawlor said Friday.

The two fires in central Newfoundland near the town of Grand Falls-Windsor had been burning for over a month, and Lawlor said officials were able to declare them 100 per cent contained around 5 p.m. local time on Thursday.

"It's very satisfying that we're at this stage of the fire," he said in an interview Friday. "I think with the crews out there, it was a good feeling that the work they've done has finally succeeded."

The fires were triggered July 24 by lightning strikes during a period of hot, dry weather in central Newfoundland. One burned near Paradise Lake, just south of Grand Falls-Windsor. The other blazed nearby along the Bay d'Espoir Highway.

The highway is the only road connecting towns along Newfoundland's southern Connaigre Peninsula with the rest of the island. Officials had to shut down the highway several times, including a five-day closure beginning Aug. 4.

The shutdown cut off Connaigre Peninsula towns from their main grocery supply route, and store shelves quickly grew bare. Food and supplies were flown in by helicopter.

Meanwhile, smoke and air quality concerns prompted provincial officials to declare a state of emergency in Grand Falls-Windsor and several surrounding communities. The emergency ended Aug. 12.

A network of small forest access roads in the area was also shut down by the fires. The provincial Forestry Department reopened the last of those roads on Friday.

Lawlor said several cabins along those roads were burned, but he didn't know how many.

The two fires ultimately covered a combined area of more than 228 square kilometres. With no expectation of further spread, Lawlor said crews will scaling back their efforts beginning next week.

"That takes some pressure off firefighters and our resources to get people home and get them recharged," he said. "It feels good."

Some crews will still be on-site to patrol the fire area and respond to any reports from the public about flare-ups and hot spots.

About 20 firefighters from Nova Scotia flew in to help battle the blazes, and the Forestry Department said they returned home on Monday.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 2, 2022.

Sarah Smellie, The Canadian Press