Newfoundland fires stabilizing as crews prepare to fight flames on foot

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)

Two of the major forest fires burning in central Newfoundland are beginning to stabilize when it comes to size, with weather conditions finally allowing for 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 saw no change in size since the last update on Wednesday, 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 told CBC News 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 and calmer behaviour 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 have 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 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)

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 told The St. John’s Morning Show just after 6 a.m. NT Thursday. 

“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 degrees. Skies will cloud over overnight, with the temperature lowering to 13 degrees.

Air quality statements in other central Newfoundland communities have lifted as of 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. Forest access roads continue to remain closed, with Motty reminding 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 are hoping to do structure assessments by flyover in the coming days, the details of which would be shared with cabin owners directly.

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

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