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Smoke adds new problems as Newfoundland forest fires continue to grow

Smoke from a forest fire in central Newfoundland is shown in a Sunday, Aug.7, 2022 government handout photo. Smoke is continuing to play a key factor in the growth of both major fires. (Government of Newfoundland and Labrador/The Canadian Press)

The Paradise Lake forest fire tearing through parts of central Newfoundland has grown an additional 6,800 hectares heading into firefighting efforts on Wednesday.

Provincial forest fire duty officer Jeff Motty told CBC News Wednesday the fire now spans 17,233 hectares, or about 172 square kilometres.

The number is up dramatically from Tuesday’s update of 10,337 hectares. The fire was estimated at 6,614 hectares on Monday. 

While the area received almost 20 millimetres of rain Tuesday, Motty said smoke continues to play a key factor in the fire’s growth.

“That one’s been kicking up a lot of smoke,” Motty told CBC News. “Early in the incident it was causing major, major problems, and we just had to use our water bombers as effectively as we can.”

The fire is still deemed out of control as crews continue to work on the site Wednesday.

A man sits in front of forest fire maps in Newfoundland and Labrador.
Jeff Motty is a forest fire duty officer in Newfoundland and Labrador. He says crews will assess whether or not the bay D’Espoir highway can stay open on Wednesday morning. (CBC)

The other major fire, burning near the Bay d’Espoir Highway, also grew in size to 5,769 hectares — up 42 hectares from Tuesday’s update.

Eight water bombers are attacking the fires Wednesday, Motty said.

The Bay d’Espoir highway remains open as of Wednesday morning following five days of closures, but officials with the Department of Transportation said Tuesday they’ll be reassessing the status of the road on Wednesday morning.

Motty said crews will be looking for low wind speeds to factor into the decision, which are forecasted to be around 20 km/h.

“The rain certainly did help us yesterday, but we still do have a lot of work ahead of us,” he added.

“We’ll have to go and do another assessment today to see if it’s safe to continue it be open, and that will always be our number one operational objective with the Bay d’Espoir Highway.”

Smoke expected to enter communities Thursday

Meanwhile, the mayor of Grand Falls-Windsor is asking residents to prepare for heavy smoke in the coming days as winds begin to shift.

Mayor Barry Manuel said in a news release Tuesday night that the town expects to see smoky conditions in the community on Thursday, when winds are forecasted to shift to the south.

Special air quality statements remain in place across much of central and western Newfoundland, including Buchans, Green Bay, White Bay, the Corner Brook area and Gros Morne National Park. 

Barry Manuel is the mayor of Grand Falls-Windsor. (Garrett Barry/CBC)

If a resident is vulnerable to smoke and poor air quality, the town is recommending people evacuate to temporary safe accommodations or the provincial government’s evacuation shelter in Deer Lake, the release said.

Buses will be leaving the community from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. NT over the course of Wednesday from both the Joe Byrne Memorial Stadium and Windsor Stadium. Residents are asked to arrive an hour before departure and are encouraged to bring only essential items.

Pets are allowed on the bus, but must be in a kettle or crate. They aren’t allowed in the evacuation centre, but will be cared for at the pet shelter at the Deer Lake fire hall.

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

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