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Residents ordered to flee central Labrador town as wildfire rages nearby

Newfoundland and Labrador's provincial flag flies on a flag pole in Ottawa on July 6, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld Newfoundland and Labrador's provincial flag flies on a flag pole in Ottawa on July 6, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
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ST. JOHN'S, N.L. -

An out-of-control wildfire forced officials to order residents to flee their homes in the central Labrador community of Churchill Falls on Wednesday evening.

Local officials issued an alert asking everyone in the town to be out by 8:15 p.m. local time, "due to changing conditions of the fire around the community."

The notice asked residents to head east to Happy Valley-Goose Bay, which is a three-hour drive along a remote, two-lane highway.

"I am in touch with officials and we will be there to help in any way we can," Newfoundland and Labrador Premier Andrew Furey said in a social media post sharing the alert. "Please be safe and check on friends and neighbours at this time."

Churchill Falls is home to about 700 people, and the town sits along the Trans-Labrador Highway, which cuts across Labrador's vast, wooded interior. The Churchill Falls generating station is about four kilometres east of the town's centre, and it supplies power to Quebec and Newfoundland and Labrador.

The eastern Canadian province's online wildfire dashboard showed two fires burning near the community on Wednesday night. The closest was about 15 kilometres southwest of the town, encompassing an area of about seven square kilometres.

Officials advised anyone in Churchill Falls needing a ride to Happy Valley-Goose Bay to head to the town centre or the bus area at the generating station's staff housing facilities. Those arriving in Happy Valley-Goose Bay, which is Labrador's largest community, were advised to check in at the YMCA.

There were seven wildfires burning in Labrador on Wednesday, four of which were out of control. Three fires listed as "being held," which means they were no longer spreading, were in the western part of the region. The four fires still spreading -- including the blaze that forced the evacuation of Churchill Falls -- were in central Labrador.

Five helicopters, four waterbombers and 38 ground crew members were all working to douse the flames, Newfoundland and Labrador forest fire duty officer Bryan Oke said earlier on Wednesday.

Oke said he and his crews were keeping a close eye on conditions near Churchill Falls. Temperatures there hit 32 C earlier in the day, and he said winds were stronger than anticipated. As of about 3 p.m. on Wednesday, officials said the fire risk in the area was "extreme."

Forest fires are not uncommon in Labrador, especially at the beginning of the summer when thunder and lightning storms are common as temperatures rise, Oke said.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 19, 2024

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