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Wildfire near Churchill Falls in Labrador stable, but weather not co-operating

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Officials in central Labrador say the wildfire threatening the evacuated town of Churchill Falls remained stable Saturday, but there was no sign of significant rain in the forecast

As a result, the 500 residents ordered to leave the community on Wednesday were left wondering when they would be allowed to return home.

Municipal officials in Churchill Falls are hinting it might be a long wait.

"With the timeframe of the evacuation order being unknown, and residents displaced in temporary accommodations, we want to help you prepare for possible longer-term solutions," the town's website says.

Part of that preparation involves town officials drawing up a list of residents who are staying in Happy Valley-Goose Bay, a three-hour drive to the east, and in Labrador City and Wabush, a three hour drive to the west.

The town says one member of every displaced family must register with the municipality, which will enable the town to pass along further information.

Meanwhile, Newfoundland and Labrador Hydro, the utility that operates the massive Churchill Falls hydroelectric generating station, issued a statement saying the Mount Hyde Lake fire was still burning on the south side of the Churchill River, which stands between the fire and the town.

"Plant operations remain unaffected at this time and is not at immediate risk," the Crown-owned utility said in a statement released early Saturday.

Eight amphibious waterbombers were attacking the 15-square-kilometre fire, four of them from the province, plus two from Quebec and two from Ontario.

Town officials say fire suppression efforts have kept the fire from growing.

"Fire response is maintaining success in keeping the fire on the south side of the Churchill River," the town's website says. "Despite windy conditions, fire crews were able to take effective action on flare-ups. Ground crews continued working hotspots."

On Saturday morning, Premier Andrew Furey issued a brief, upbeat statement on social media.

"Thank you once again to all first responders for the unwavering and stellar work battling the wildfire near Churchill Falls, and others in the province," Furey wrote. "Your efforts have been effective."

While the generating station was operating as usual, the utility issued a statement Saturday saying there was concern that smoke from the blaze, which is about six kilometres away, could affect insulators on the power lines, causing "trips" that could shut down the flow of electricity.

"Teams are examining potential scenarios and working to mitigate any potential customer impact," the utility said.

Of the 10 wildfires burning in the province, the only two burning out of control are west of Churchill Falls, where the fire index remains very high.

A fire ban is in effect for the entire province.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 22, 2024. 

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