More essential workers return to Churchill Falls, with fires holding steady

This webcam photo shows what conditions look like at the Churchill Falls airport on Wednesday morning. (Nav Canada - image credit)
This webcam photo shows what conditions look like at the Churchill Falls airport on Wednesday morning. (Nav Canada - image credit)
This webcam photo shows what conditions look like at the Churchill Falls airport on Wednesday morning.
This webcam photo shows what conditions look like at the Churchill Falls airport on Wednesday morning.

This webcam image shows the conditions at the Churchill Falls airport on Wednesday morning. (Nav Canada)

Two wildfires are still burning near Churchill Falls, but while the evacuation order remains in effect, the situation is steady and more essential workers are returning to the town, say officials.

Provincial forest fire duty officer Laurie Holloway said the situation around Churchill Falls is stable.

"We have been doing a lot of work on the ground. Crews have been working very hard and there's been some rugged ground conditions," Holloway told CBC News on Wednesday.

"But the fire remains the same. It's holding, and so far our suppression efforts have been successful, but today is another hot, warm, dry day."

About 750 people were ordered on June 19 to flee Churchill Falls, a company town that exists to keep Hydro's generating station running.

The remaining skeleton staff were forced to leave early last week, after a raging forest fire jumped the Churchill River and moved closer to the town and its power plant. As weather conditions improved, like increased humidity in the air, low temperatures and rainfall, some essential workers were able to return a few days later.

The Crown corporation is stressing the evacuation order is still in effect.

"Only designated critical staff have access to the town at this time," said Hydro in its most recent statement, on its website Tuesday evening.

"We continue to receive regular updates from provincial forestry officials and take their guidance as we continue to monitor when it may be safe for people to return home."

While there are currently no unplanned power outages in the region, Hydro said they could still happen in the region and asked people to be prepared.

As of Tuesday evening, said the Crown corporation, all of its Labrador City customers were once again getting local power.

"The remaining customers in Labrador City who had been receiving power via Hydro-Québec temporarily are now switched back to normal connection and supply from Churchill Falls," the statement said.

Hydro also reiterated that while the Trans-Labrador Highway is open, there is still no access to Churchill Falls, and travellers should plan accordingly.

According to Newfoundland and Labrador's wildfire dashboard, there are eight active fires in Labrador on Wednesday morning — down one fire from Tuesday. The Menihek dam fire is out but there are other out-of-control fires being monitored in remote areas.

"With today's conditions it is possible that we could see some smoke from those fires pop up today," said Holloway.

Of the two fires threatening the town, the Mount Hyde Lake fire — which has been menacing the town and at one point jumped the airport — is still listed as out of control.

The fire is still three to four kilometres from town, said Holloway, and its perimeter hasn't changed.

The status of the more distant Twin Falls fire — 17 kilometres from town — recently flipped from being held to being under control.

On Friday, the provincial government lifted Newfoundland's fire ban while retaining it in parts of Labrador to reduce the risk of more fires and the diversion of resources.

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