The Weather Network – Premier asks residents in central Newfoundland to prepare to evacuate

The state of emergency in central Newfoundland has been extended to the Botwood area due to declining air quality.

Smoke from forest fires in the region had already prompted the Newfoundland and Labrador government to declare a state of emergency in the Grand Falls-Windsor, Bishop’s Falls and Connaigre Peninsula areas.

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The first is asking residents in central Newfoundland communities to prepare for potential evacuation due to growing forest fires in the region.

No evacuation order has been given as yet. Premier Andrew Furey says the move is not to create panic, but readiness because of the quickly changing situation.

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The Premier and Minister of Fisheries, Forestry and Agriculture Derrick Bragg spoke from Gander Sunday morning.

Furey said that smoke and poor air quality in the region were major concerns leading to the decision to call for preparations.

“The fire is not on a direct route to these communities at this particular time,” Furey said. “However, the change in wind patterns could have significant smoke impacts on these communities, Bishop’s Falls and Grand Falls-Windsor.”

Furey said people living in these areas with lung issues, such as asthma, should consider leaving in advance of the heavy smoke.

andrew-furey-fire-gander/Government of Newfoundland and Labrador via CBC
Premier Andrew Furey and Minister Derrick Bragg addressed the province from Gander, asking the area to prepare for a potential evacuation. (Government of Newfoundland and Labrador)

The Premier has also asked “Central Health to begin a triage evacuation plan for people in their facilities.” That includes the hospital in Grand Falls-Windsor, as well as the long term care facilities and personal care homes in the area.

As for the Connaigre Peninsula, Furey said the state of emergency was declared there because of the Bay d’Espoir highway closure.

“We are establishing a ferry currently and it’s on its way to provide services from Fortune to Hermitage, and that will be established in short order.”

He says the current situation is constantly changing.

bay-d-espoir-forest-fire/Submitted by Derrick Bragg via CBC
A forest fire rages near NL’s Bay d’Espoir Highway on Saturday, August 6, 2022. (Submitted by Derrick Bragg)

“Let’s hope we get some rain and all of this has been for nothing,” said Furey.

The announcement comes less than twelve hours after the first declared a state of emergency in the region covering Grand Falls-Windsor, Bishop’s Falls and Connaigre Peninsula, and just an hour after Minister Bragg expanded the regional outdoor fire ban to the entire province due to ongoing dry, windy weather.

State of emergency declared

The Newfoundland and Labrador government has declared a state of emergency in parts of central Newfoundland as forest fires continue to rage out of control.

The state of emergency covers the Grand Falls-Windsor, Bishop’s Falls and Connaigre Peninsula areas.

In a video statement posted to social media Saturday night, Premier Andrew Furey called it the worst fire situation in Newfoundland since 1961, and said while the fires aren’t threatening communities at the moment, “the wind is changing and the pattern of smoke distribution will change significantly.”

“This is a dynamic situation,” he said, flanked in the video by Forestry Minister Derrick Bragg and incident commander Jason Glode.

Furey said they’ve asked the Central Health region to create an evacuation plan for its hospitals, long-term care homes, and personal care homes should the need arise, and people living in the affected communities should also be on alert for possible evacuation.

“We don’t want to create panic, but we need to act in a responsible fashion given the current threat level,” he said.

In a tweet on Saturday night, federal Emergency Preparedness Minister Bill Blair said he had approved the Newfoundland and Labrador government’s request for help from the Canadian Forces. Blair said staff will help “plan and co-ordinate evacuation and movement operations from affected areas.”

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The fires in central Newfoundland have been burning for two weeks, and the largest, near the Bay d’Espoir Highway, has forced the ongoing closure of the only road in and out of the Connaigre Peninsula.

In Saturday night’s video statement, Bragg said officials are concerned that given the forecasted weather conditions, that fire will combine with another burning nearby at Paradise Lake.

“We may see the fire run as much as 10 kilometers,” said Glode. “This puts us in approximately 10 to 15 kilometers from Grand Falls-Windsor, and our major concern would be smoke, but also embers and hot ashes and stuff falling on properties.”

Sunday afternoon in central Newfoundland, temperatures could reach a high of 28 C, and winds could be gusting to 35 kilometers an hour.

Glode is asking people in the affected communities to “fire smart” their properties — including cutting grass, clearing mulch and any flammable materials from around their property, and trimming any trees leaning against their homes.

Glode said crews are building a firebreak along the province’s transmission lines.

“That’s our line of defense in terms of impacted communities, if the fire should get to that point,” he said.

Environment Canada has issued an air quality statement for northeastern Newfoundland, including Grand Falls-Windsor, Clarenville, the Bonavista Peninsula and the Terra Nova area.

The story was originally published for CBC News on Aug. 6, 2022. It contains files from Matt McCann, Peter Cowan.

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