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 forest fires the province has seen in more than 60 years.
Roy Drake said Monday he figures the three grocery stores in Harbour Breton, N.L., will be out of food within the next day or two. Drake said he owns one of those stores—the smallest of the three in the town of about 1,600 people—and already, there’s not a jug of milk or a loaf of bread left on any of his shelves.
“Things are starting to get stressful for most residents,” Drake said in a phone interview from the town hall. “We need to get food in within a day or so to help us out. Not just for Harbour Breton, but for the entire region.”
For the past two weeks, forest fires have forced officials to intermittently shut down a remote, 200-kilometre-long route that connects the main highway across Newfoundland with the island’s Connaigre Peninsula, which is home to the towns of Harbour Breton, Hermitage and Conne River. The last time the road was opened was last Thursday morning, according to the Department of Forestry’s regular Twitter updates.
The province has declared a state of emergency stretching from the Connaigre Peninsula up the highway to the towns of Bishop’s Falls, Grand Falls-Windsor and Botwood, largely because of smoke and air quality concerns. Officials said Saturday the fires are still burning in a remote area and the flames don’t pose a risk to any homes or residents.
In a video posted to social media Saturday night, Newfoundland and Labrador Premier Furey described one blaze as the largest the province has seen since 1961. As of Sunday, the provincial government reported four active fires covering about 10,800 hectares.
The Canadian Red Cross has set up emergency shelter for those stranded north of the fires in central Newfoundland, and Quebec has sent firefighters and aircraft to help battle the flames.
For those stranded south of the fires on the Connaigre Peninsula, the provincial Transportation Department has enlisted a ferry to start bringing supplies to stranded communities and to help people leave.
The ferry is expected to arrive Tuesday. The timing will be tight, Drake said, noting that the ferry will be docking in the neighbouring town of Hermitage, which needs its own supplies and which is still about 50 kilometres away from his community.
“I’m not sure that ferry is going to be able to accommodate what we may need in terms of supply on Day 1,” he said, adding that he’d be focused on sorting out how and when the needed supplies might arrive in his town.
David Neil, a warning preparedness meteorologist for Environment and Climate Change Canada, said the fires were started on July 24 by a lightning strike, in the midst of an abnormally warm and dry summer.
“This is a very unique situation,” he said, though he was hesitant to pin it directly on the province’s changing climate.
Neil said there are about 10 millimetres of rain forecast for the area on Tuesday.
“It’s not a great deal of rain,” he admitted. “But at the very least, it should being some help to the folk trying to contain the fire.”
Federal New Democrat leader Jagmeet Singh issued a statement Monday saying the fires are evidence that Justin Trudeau’s Liberals must do more to fight climate change.
By Sarah Smellie