Community cut off by Newfoundland wildfires after running out of food, deputy mayor says


The deputy mayor of a southern Newfoundland town says his community is running out of food as it remains cut off from the rest of the island due to the worst wildfires the province has seen in more than 60 years.

Roy Drake said Monday that he estimates that all three grocery stores in Harbor Breton, NL, will run out of food in the next day or two. Drake said he owns one such store, the smallest of three in the city of about 1,600 people, and there isn’t a jug of milk or a loaf of bread left on any of its shelves.

“Things are starting to get stressful for most residents,” Drake said in a phone interview from City Hall. “We need to get food within a day or so to help us out. Not just for Harbor Breton, but for the entire region.”

For the past two weeks, wildfires have forced authorities to intermittently close a 200-kilometer-long remote route that connects the main road through Newfoundland to the island’s Connaigre Peninsula, which is home to the towns of Harbor Breton, Hermitage and Conne. River. The last time the road was opened was last Thursday morning, according to regular Twitter updates from the Forest Department.

The province has declared a state of emergency stretching from the Connaigre Peninsula to the towns of Bishop’s Falls, Grand Falls-Windsor and Botwood, largely due to smoke and air quality concerns. Officials said Saturday that the fires are still burning in a remote area and that the flames do not pose a risk to any homes or residents.

In a video posted on social media late Saturday, Newfoundland and Labrador Premier Furey described a fire as the largest the province has seen since 1961. As of Sunday, the provincial government reported four active fires. covering some 10,800 hectares.

The Canadian Red Cross has set up an emergency shelter for people trapped north of the fires in central Newfoundland, and Quebec has sent firefighters and planes to help battle the flames.

For those stranded south of the fires on the Connaigre Peninsula, the provincial Department of Transportation has chartered a ferry to begin bringing supplies to stranded communities and helping people get out.

The ferry is expected to arrive on Tuesday. The timing will be tight, Drake said, noting that the ferry will dock in the neighboring town of Hermitage, which needs its own supplies and is still about 50 kilometers from his community.

“I’m not sure the ferry can accommodate what we may need in terms of supplies on Day 1,” he said, adding that he would focus on determining how and when the needed supplies might arrive. His town

David Neil, an alert preparedness meteorologist for Environment and Climate Change Canada, said the fires were started on July 24 by lightning, in the middle of an abnormally hot and dry summer.

“This is a very unique situation,” he said, though he was hesitant to blame it directly on the province’s changing climate.

Neil said there is about 10 millimeters of rain forecast for the area on Tuesday.

“It’s not a lot of rain,” he admitted. “But at the very least, it should be of some help to the people trying to contain the fire.”

The federal leader of the New Democrats, Jagmeet Singh, issued a statement Monday saying the fires are evidence that Justin Trudeau’s Liberals must do more to combat climate change.

This report from The Canadian Press was first published on August 8, 2022.

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