Canada

Churchill Falls residents ordered to evacuate as wildfire grows out of control

Forestry officials in Newfoundland and Labrador have ordered the evacuation of the Labrador community of Churchill Falls as a wildfire continues to grow out of control.

Residents have been asked to be out of the community by 8:15 p.m. AT, and have been advised to travel east to Happy Valley-Goose Bay, about 287 kilometres away.

Residents and visitors of Churchill Falls have been advised that the YMCA in Happy Valley-Goose Bay is the check-in point for evacuees. Staff are working to prepare for arrivals, and programming has been suspended outside of daycare to deal with incoming people.

The first group of evacuees arrived in Happy Valley-Goose Bay just after 10 p.m.

Rob Dawe, a resident of Churchill Falls, said he’s seen conditions worsen throughout the day.

“Around three o’clock this afternoon, I could see a haze in town, which we haven’t seen the last few days,” he told CBC News just after 7:30 p.m. local time.

“When I was home supper time, I went out to let my dogs out, and I could see really black, thick smoke. And I knew things were getting worse.”

As of Wednesday at 8:15 p.m. AT, residents and visitors of Churchill Falls have been advised to travel east to Happy Valley-Goose Bay as wildfires are travelling closer to the town. (Submitted by Robert Dawe.)

High temperatures also remain a concern. Humidex values for parts of Labrador neared 37 C on Wednesday, with overnight lows in areas like Happy Valley-Goose Bay only expected to fall to 22 C.

Churchill Falls is also under a severe thunderstorm warning, which could bring westerly winds of up to 80 km/h.

“It’s blowing from the west, so it’s blowing the fire toward us. It’s really hazy and smoky in town, so we know we got to go,” Dawe said.

Dawe said many residents were prepared and ready to evacuate for some time, and that things are moving smoothly.

Happy Valley-Goose Bay Deputy Mayor Ella Wallace told CBC News that a registration checkpoint has been set up for people leaving Churchill Falls. Once they leave the checkpoint, they are being asked to go straight to the YMCA to register a second time and ensure they got there.

“I think the main thing is that we be here for our neighbouring community of Churchill Falls,” Wallace said. “What we can do is obviously make sure that we’re being kind, lend a hand, obviously our doors are open to anyone we may know.”

Newfoundland and Labrador Hydro has organized buses to help get residents out of town, Dawe said.

Hydro estimates that there are 750 residents and contractors on site. The Crown corporation said a small crew of essential personnel will stay on site at the generating station as long as it is safe to do so.

Evacuation plans are in place.

Hydro is also co-ordinating with the Province, the Red Cross and other groups that have reached out to offer assistance.

The Mount Hyde Lake fire is closest to Churchill Falls. It is listed as out of control on the province’s active wildfire dashboard and spans 702 hectares.

Mount Hyde Lake is about 10 kilometres from Churchill Falls.

The Twin Falls fire is further west. It is out of control and spans 1,816 hectares.

‘Things could erupt pretty quickly’: Labrador MP

Labrador MP Yvonne Jones said the fire is about 10 to 15 kilometres away from the town’s airport, which is another two or three kilometres outside the community.

She expects the fire to cross a nearby river.

 “We’re looking at a very hazardous area there, and if that was to happen, then, you know, things could erupt pretty quickly,” Jones said.

People stand up around community centre.
Evacuees from Churchill Falls started arriving at the YMCA in Happy Valley-Goose Bay at 10:05 p.m. AT on Wednesday. (Heidi Atter/ CBC)

Jones said everyone is hopeful that the situation can get under control and fire damage will be limited to the areas where it is now.

“All attempts are being made to do that,” she said.

Newfoundland and Labrador Premier Andrew Furey said in a post on X, formerly Twitter, that he has been in touch with officials and that the province will be there to help residents in any way they can.

CBC News has contacted the Department of Forestry and the Town of Churchill Falls for more information.

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