Wildfire near Bocabec forces evacuations

(Robert Fisher photo) St. Croix MLA Kathy Bockus, from left, New Brunswick Premier Blaine Higgs, Saint Andrews Mayor Brad Henderson and Saint Andrews Fire Chief Kevin Theriault hold a press conference on May 29 to provide an update on the Stein Lake wildfire near Bocabec.

BOCABEC – Residents evacuated in the Bocabec area due to a wildfire were told Tuesday they could return home.

Officials held a news conference on Tuesday regarding the Stein Lake fire. Public Safety Minister Kris Austin joined Roger Collet, who works in wildfire management with the Department of Natural Resources and Energy Development (DNRED), Saint Andrews Mayor Brad Henderson, fire chief Kevin Theriault and St. Croix MLA Kathy Bockus.

“The roadblocks will be taken down and you can return to your home,” said Henderson.

He and Collet stressed the fire is still active and the situation could change. They cautioned people to be vigilant and if they see something change to call 911. The emergency centre at the W.C. O’Neill Arena would remain open for anyone who needs it. Collet also said there is more hot, dry weather expected on the weekend, which could change the situation.

Henderson praised the response of not just the community in Saint Andrews but throughout Charlotte County for the assistance they have offered.

(Robert Fisher photo) Reed Street/Mowat Drive was lined with signs students from Vincent Massey Elementary School in Saint Andrews made thanking firefighters and first responders.

“I, once again, also want to highlight the amount of generosity that is happening,” said Henderson, adding fridges at the arena have been full throughout and people are continuing to bring donated items to the arena.

The fire is still classed as out of control. Crews worked Monday mostly on the northeast corner where most residences are and say, right now, it is safe for people to return.

Bockus said water bombers and sighting plane flew more than 80 hours combined on Monday. The bombers were on standby Tuesday. As of Monday night, “220 hotspots were identified,” she said.

Collet said the bombers worked primarily around the edge of the fire dropping retardant to help contain the fire. Crews have also been able to dig fire breaks to help keep the fire from spreading further. Theriault said the burn area remains at approximately eight kilometres long and three kilometres wide at the widest.

“There are more than 50 firefighters on the ground,” said Collet, including 29 from DNRED.

Theriault said crews from outside Charlotte County had been sent home.

Austin and Collet repeated the cautions from Monday to stay out of wooded areas unless absolutely necessary and asked people to be especially careful with anything that could potentially start a fire, even in their own backyards. That includes disposing of barbecue embers, using fireworks and leaving a barbecue unattended.

“If you’re wondering where you can burn or what you can burn, the answer is simple. Don’t burn,” said Austin, emphasizing there’s a province-wide burn ban currently.

The wildfire has been burning since Sunday afternoon and Henderson had been posting updates to both Twitter and Facebook.

In a Twitter post about 2 a.m. Monday, Henderson said he had met with Theriault and that crews would be heading back out later that morning. The post also said the province would provide additional air support in the morning.

In an email Monday morning, Henderson said “almost all of Bocabec is evacuated and a major chunk of Chamcook,” as far south as both entrances of Glebe Road. “I would estimate around 400 dwellings.”

He said no injuries had been reported and “at least one home destroyed.” Henderson praised first responders, saying “the teams have done a remarkable job protecting dwellings.”

Henderson confirmed the wildfire started when an ATV caught fire on South Glenelg Road in Chamcook.

During a briefing on Monday that also included Premier Blaine Higgs, Henderson stressed the importance that weather conditions remain favourable so crews can continue working to get it under control.

“At this time, the fire is still not controlled,” said Henderson.

Theriault said Monday there were crews from 13 fire departments, including as far away as Oromocto, fighting the fire.

Higgs said all crews that had been out of the province helping elsewhere had been recalled, which was mainly air support water bombers.

The call came in at approximately 1:30 p.m. Sunday, Theriault stated, for an ATV on fire and by the time crews responded, flames had spread into the woods. Because of “the dry temperatures and dry conditions, the fire travelled too fast to be controlled.”

There were seven water bombers as of Monday morning, where there were just three available Sunday.

Theriault explained the lack of wind is helping matters.

“It’s not getting into the trees. It’s remaining as a ground cover fire where it is and it’s more of a smoldering fire now,” said Theriault.

The premier said 15 fires had started around the province on Sunday due, in part, to high temperatures and winds. Four of those fires were out of control. He said the Stein Lake fire may be the only one remaining that is not under control.

“(The fire) is being fought very well and hopefully be under control in the coming hours,” said Higgs.

“Maybe later today or tomorrow,” Theriault followed up, as to when the fire may be under control. “But this will be a long, drawn-out fire fight for everybody for hotspots.”

Higgs and Bockus stressed that people should remain out of forests and wooded areas unless absolutely necessary in the current dry conditions.

robertfisher@stcroixcourier.ca

Editor’s note: This story was updated May 31.

The Saint Croix Courier