Wabush residents allowed to return home; Labrador town still under fire alert

WABUSH, N.L. – Most of the residents evacuated from a western Labrador town that had been threatened by a forest fire are back in their homes, but the community remains under a state of emergency.

Thick smoke from a nearby forest fire had forced the evacuation of Wabush on Friday.

Westerly winds have blown away much of the smoke blanketing the town and allowed authorities to lift the voluntary evacuation notice Sunday night.

Wabush mayor Ron Barron said life in the town is slowly getting back to normal.

“Overall I think most people are happy to be home,” Barron told the Canadian Press in a phone interview.

He estimated about 90 per cent of the town’s 1,800 residents have so far returned.

Because of successful efforts Sunday to suppress the fire’s western flank from the air, the province’s fire duty officer Eric Earle said authorities have been able to put crews into action on the ground in the Wabush-area.

In addition to the approximately 30 forest firefighters working to control the blaze, total resources assigned to fight the fire include four helicopters and four water bombers, said Earle.

But despite the positive developments around Wabush, Earle said the fire remains active elsewhere.

“There was some movement in the north-east portion of the fire,” said Earle.

“After (Sunday) we moved our air tankers from the western flank and we started to focus our effort up there.”

Temperatures and winds in the western Labrador area are also forecast to increase over the next few days, which Earle said could be bad news for firefighters.

“Although we made progress yesterday and we’re hoping to make progress today, we’re cautiously optimistic,” said Earle.

Barron also cautioned against considering the risk as over.

“There’s still a major fire in the area and people have got to be cognizant of that,” he said.

“Hopefully over the next couple of days the low threat that’s there now will be a no threat.”

Meanwhile, authorities have re-opened the Trans-Labrador Highway, which had been closed since last week.

Escorted traffic was allowed through beginning Sunday evening.

The fire has consumed around 700 square kilometres since it began over a week ago.