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Fire suppression efforts working against Churchill Falls, N.L., wildfires

Newfoundland and Labrador Premier Andrew Furey said Sunday that while crews have held off the wildfires, the danger still exists.

Still no timeline for return to evacuated community

Fire suppression efforts over the weekend have continued working against wildfires threatening Churchill Falls in Newfoundland and Labrador.

Mark Lawlor, the provincial forest fire duty officer, says that as of Sunday the fire burning 17 kilometres from Churchill Falls is considered under control, while the closer fire, seven kilometres from the town, has grown, but in the opposite direction.

Lawlor confirmed that two of the water bombers sent from Quebec to help in the fight had returned to their home province to tackle fires there.

For the time being the town, which was evacuated last week, is safe. But Lawlor said that could change.

"That fire is still out of control and is still capable of, given the right conditions, that fire could get up and really get going again."

Big land with bigger heart

Newfoundland and Labrador Premier Andrew Furey said in a press conference in Happy Valley-Goose Bay on Sunday that while the fire has still not crossed the Churchill River toward the town, crews are taking advantage of the reprieve.

"We have also taken extra measures and are now creating a fire break around the community," said Furey.

"That involves the use of heavy equipment to remove some trees and vegetation to eliminate potential fuel source if the fire does cross the river."

That fire break is 60 metres wide and 8-10 kilometres long, so it will take days to complete.

The premier also thanked both crews battling the fires and those who have stepped in to help the displaced residents of Churchill Falls in the town of Happy Valley-Goose Bay where about 100 of the initial 750 evacuees still remain.

"Once again," said Furey, "incredibly grateful for the people of Happy Valley-Goose Bay and in Labrador in general. It's a big land, but it has a bigger heart, and it's on full display here in the last few days."

We can outlast

A minimal staff has remained behind in Churchill Falls to maintain the massive hydroelectric plant, which supplies energy to both Quebec and Newfoundland and Labrador.

NL Hydro CEO Jennifer Williams says even with a skeleton crew, she is confident they can outlast the fire.

"We do have people that we can switch out. We wouldn't want to do this for years, obviously. But we can outlast this fire, and we will do what we need to make sure the plant remains safe to operate as well."

Fire ban still on

As the fire could still change direction, no timeline has been set for a return to Churchill Falls.

Premier Furey said that the province has put charter flights in place to take evacuees to the island portion of the province, where many have family.

But he reiterated to people across the province who might want to help out that the best way to do so is to obey the provincial ban on open fires.

"We really can't spare any resources right now. And that is a way that you can help the people of Churchill Falls. So people are often asking 'how can we help?' 'What can we do?'

"That's something that you can do at home. Just respect the fire ban as it is in place. It's in place for a reason."

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With files from Kayla Hounsell

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