As central Newfoundland fires rage, Miawpukek is planning for the future

·2 min read
Miawpukek general manager Rod Jeddore said the town is creating a fire break to prevent forest fires from reaching the community. (Darrell Roberts/CBC - image credit)
Miawpukek general manager Rod Jeddore said the town is creating a fire break to prevent forest fires from reaching the community. (Darrell Roberts/CBC - image credit)
Darrell Roberts/CBC
Darrell Roberts/CBC

As two forest fires continue to burn through central Newfoundland, Miawpukek First Nation leaders say they're preparing for the future.

The Mi'kmaw community, also known as Conne River, is one of several towns in Newfoundland's Coast of Bays region that was cut off from essential supplies for five days when Route 360 closed because of the fires.

Miawpukek is surrounded by forest and only has one way in and out — Route 365, which branches off the Bay d'Espoir Highway. If a forest fire reached Miawpukek and the highway was closed, the community would be in danger, and residents could be left with no way out.

So Miawpukek First Nation general manager Rod Jeddore said they've made building a fire break a priority, and hope to start on it this fall.

"We at least slow it, if not stop it from coming into the community," he said in an interview with CBC News.

For now though, the community's emergency operations centre has been focused on bringing in critical supplies like baby formula and medication.

"We weren't in any immediate danger from the fire, but our resource was cut off," he said. "No fuel, no food, no basic needs were going to be met."

Jeddore said the town was planning to use a float plane to deliver supplies, before freight trucks began arriving Tuesday.

The emergency operations centre also brought in fishing boats to help in a potential — though unlikely — evacuation.

"In the event we had to evacuate — we know full well we may not have to, but it's better to be prepared," he said.

Remain calm, says Chief

Miawpukek resident Kimberly Hinks said the road closure and forest fires have been scary. She's nervous to go on the Bay d'Espoir highway, especially after getting on the other side for a night last week when smoke in the area was particularly strong.

Darrell Roberts/CBC
Darrell Roberts/CBC

"I got up and I went out that morning because there was all the smoke and that. There was so much ash over my vehicle, I was like 'holy moly,'" she said.

Miawpukek Chief Mi'sel Joe said though the community fared relatively well overall, residents still felt anxious.

"We had to keep reminding people to stay calm," he said. "We're working to this. We're doing the best we can to make sure everybody is safe."

Darrell Roberts/CBC
Darrell Roberts/CBC

Joe said the town also has access to a decommissioned icebreaker.

Joe said the community has always been concerned about the possibility of a forest fire, and will do a debrief about its current procedures after the current situation is over.

"We certainly have to take a look at how we're going to do that and manage that," he said.

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