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Newfoundland fires stabilizing as crews prepare to fight flames on foot

A landscape shot of the aftermath of a forest fire. Charred land and blackened trees sit under a bright blue sky.
Changing weather conditions show the damage caused by a forest fire near the Bay d’Espoir Highway in central Newfoundland. Officials say air quality is better than expected and crews will be able to fight the fires on foot Thursday. (Darrell Roberts/CBC)

The sizes of the major forest fires burning in central Newfoundland are beginning to stabilize, with weather conditions finally allowing crews to fight the fire on the ground.

Provincial forest fire duty officer Jeff Motty says the fire burning at Paradise Lake south of Grand Falls-Windsor has seen no change in size since Wednesday’s last update, while the fire burning near the Bay d’Espoir Highway has shrunk by 155 hectares. The fires span 17,233 hectares and 5,614 hectares respectively.

“Things are getting more stable,” Motty said Thursday morning.

“I don’t want to jinx myself by saying something like ‘we’ve turned a corner’ because that happened to me last week, but we are definitely seeing a change in conditions on site that is more favourable.”

There is one other fire of note at Southern Lake, located north of Grand Falls-Windsor near the community of Point Leamington. That fire is around 283 hectares in size, Motty said.

A shift in the winds along with reduced smoke and less intense burning from the fires are allowing ground crews to tackle the fires on foot Thursday. Much of the firefighting so far has been accomplished by air, as conditions had been largely unsafe for firefighters to face directly.

“I believe the winds are going to be in our favour today. They’re not going to be too high, so hopefully the smoke won’t be a major issue for many communities that have been impacted in the past,” Motty said.

A map detailing the location and size of forest fires burning in central Newfoundland.
Two major forest fires burning in Paradise Lake and near the Bay d’Espoir highway are beginning to stabilize, according to forest fire duty officer Jeff Motty. Officials are also keeping an eye on two smaller fires, shown on this map. (Government of Newfoundland and Labrador)

A special air quality statement from Environment Canada remains in place for Grand Falls-Windsor and the surrounding area including Bishop’s Falls and Badger.

Winds shifted from the south overnight, with officials forecasting that gusts could bring heavy smoke from the Paradise Lake fire into the region. However, Environment Canada meteorologist Mike Vandenberg said air quality has been better than initially expected.

“We haven’t seen any evidence of smoke on the satellite in central, however it is pretty cloudy so it could be hiding things,” Vandenberg said early Thursday morning. 

“It seems like the air quality is much improved from what we were initially expecting … [but] if the fire changes at all through the day today, it certainly could loft a bit of smoke to Grand Falls-Windsor and that general area.”

Winds are expected to stay southerly at around 15 km/h throughout Thursday and into Friday, according to Environment Canada.

The area will see a mix of sun and cloud to go with the wind and temperature highs near 21 C. Skies will cloud over overnight, with the temperature lowering to 13 C.

Air quality statements in other central Newfoundland communities lifted Thursday morning, but Grand Falls-Windsor, Bishop’s Falls and Botwood all remain in a state of emergency.

The Bay d’Espoir Highway remains open as of Thursday, with an update expected from the provincial Department of Transportation later in the morning.

A man sits in front of forest fire maps in Newfoundland and Labrador.
Forest fire duty officer Jeff Motty says conditions are becoming more favourable to fight the two major forest fires burning in central Newfoundland. (CBC)

Forest access roads remain closed. Motty reminded cabin owners in the area they shouldn’t be in the area to check on their properties.

“Just because it is within [the perimeter] doesn’t mean your cabin is burnt. We’re actually making the transition now to where we can actually get people on the ground … and get helicopters to fly those areas.”

Motty says crews hope to do structure assessments by flyover in the coming days and share details with cabin owners directly.

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

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