6 forest fires burning in N.L. as fire ban implemented in St. John’s area

A man walks on a dirt road in the forest on a sunny day.  The air was still thick with smoke from the fire.
Smoke hangs in the air as a forest fire burns nearby in Concession Bay South on Sunday. (Henrik Wilhelm/CBC)

Firefighters are on the move across the province on Tuesday, preparing to assess and fight six wildfires in eastern Newfoundland from Concession Bay south to Terra Nova.

That comes after major municipalities on the Avalon Peninsula have enacted fire bans that prevent people from opening fires or using fireplaces, charcoal barbecues and chimneys to increase fire hazards.

Provincial bushfire duty officer Colin Carroll believes a series of lightning strikes started most of the bushfire, which broke out just after 3pm on Monday amid dry ground conditions and very high to extreme fires.

The largest forest fire near Lake St. John’s is 50 hectares, or the equivalent of 123 football fields. It’s out of control and burning near some cabins in a remote area south of Thorburn Lake.

“Last night when our tanks were going back to Gander to refuel, we noticed some smoke. So we quickly got there in the chopper and did a quick assessment, and we noticed the size of the fire,” Carroll said on CBC. Radios St. John’s Morning Show.

Water bombs on red alert

Carroll said three water bombers were dousing the Lake St. John fire before dark, and 10 firefighters were on their way to the area Tuesday to put out any remaining hot spots.

“Our tankers are all on red alert, one in St. John’s, two in Gander, and they’re ready to go if we need them,” he said.

South of Thorburn Lake, Carroll said, there are two more wildfires burning together near some cabins. The fire is 12 hectares, but Carol said the risk associated with it is decreasing.

The fire in Concession Bay South’s Upper Gullies, which drew a lot of attention Sunday, is now 90 percent contained, Carroll said. He said the fire had been extinguished on Monday evening but some of the drops from the water bomb had escaped.

Carroll said the danger from that fire has now been significantly reduced and crews from Paddy’s Pond will be in the area today to continue cleanup.

A water bomber flies low over Conception Bay South, fighting fires burning near homes in the community. (Henrik Wilhelm/CBC)

Although there are no open flames, there is a small 2.5 hectare fire near Trinity that is out of control. Carroll said four firefighters, a pump unit and water bombers worked on the fire Monday and crews will continue to work on hot spots Tuesday.

A small fire in Sweet Bay on the Bonavista Peninsula was contained after water bombs saturated the aircraft. Carroll said the fire is off the coast of a small peninsula and has nowhere else to spread.

Carroll said Parks Canada crews in Terra Nova had a small fire under control.

However, Carroll said he expects some fires to burn if the wind picks up today, and hopes that rain forecast for Tuesday afternoon and evening will help.

“We are hopeful that we will get the millimeter we need,” the director said, adding that the maximum rainfall of more than five millimeters would be very beneficial. However, thunderstorms are forecast for parts of central Newfoundland, which could fuel more fires, but Carroll said they are keeping a close eye on things.

“If we have choppers or tankers in the air, they’re always scanning the horizon looking for new lights and new exhausts,” he said.

This year, there were 51 forest fires recorded in the region, burning nearly 800 hectares of land, and in 2021, there were a total of 85 fires from May to the end of September.

Fire protection, water protection orders

The St. John’s Regional Fire Department issued a fire ban Tuesday covering St. John’s, Pearl Mountain and Paradise. Prohibits open fires, including those in fireplaces and chimneys.

“A fire starts very easily, and then what you do, it spreads quickly,” Deputy Fire Chief Robert Fowler said.

Fowler said he is concerned about grass and foliage because of the hot, dry weather. Fowler said fighting these types of fires is taxing on crews.

“You’re working in those very difficult conditions … it’s a safety issue, the hard work, pulling the hose into the forest, fighting the fire, moving the brush, dealing with rough terrain and rugged terrain,” he said.

Water Conservation Orders in St. John’s, Mount Pearl, Paradise, and Portugal Cove-St. Phillips. It limits when people can water lawns and how they can wash cars. (Radio-Canada)

Meanwhile, several municipalities in northeast Avalon issued water conservation orders on Friday, including regional water supplies for St. John’s, Paradise, Mount Pearl and Portugal Cove-St. Philip was experiencing a higher demand than usual.

A conservation order restricts when people can water lawns and how they can wash vehicles.

Summer hot, dry in some places

David Neal, preparedness meteorologist for Newfoundland and Labrador, said the first part of the summer so far has been warm, with more than average days above 20 degrees but no temperatures breaking yet.

“Most of the island is generally between a degree and a half to two and a half degrees below normal,” Neill said of the weather in June.

So far in July, Neal said St. John’s and Gander are on track to have an average number of days above 20 degrees.

Meanwhile, Neil said last month was drier than average as most of the state received less than normal rainfall.

So far in July, St. John’s has received less than 17 mm of rain, a month that normally receives more than 90 mm. However, Neil said Deer Lake, Stephenville and Goose Bay have already seen normal rainfall.

Forest fires are raging in the region as southern Europe is in the grip of an unprecedented heat wave, with temperatures hitting 40C for the first time in the UK on Tuesday.

Meanwhile, wildfires raging across Portugal, Spain and France have killed dozens and forced thousands to flee their homes.

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