Evacuation order lifted in Churchill Falls as forest fire anxieties ease

Residents and visitors of Churchill Falls have been advised to travel east to Happy Valley-Goose Bay as wildfires are travelling closer to the town.
Residents and visitors of Churchill Falls travelled to Happy Valley-Goose Bay on June 19 as wildfires threatened the town. As of July 2, the evacuation order has been lifted. (Submitted by Trina Myles Wilson)

Residents of the power-generating Labrador town of Churchill Falls were told Wednesday night they can return home, after two weeks of wildfires threatening the community and its hydro plant.

The town announced on Wednesday evening that the evacuation order has been lifted.

The fire is now listed as being held, meaning sufficient action has been taken to prevent further fire spread.

Largely a company town, Churchill Falls exists to operate one of North America's largest power plants. Newfoundland and Labrador Hydro, a Crown corporation, operates the plant.

About 750 people were ordered on June 19 to flee Churchill Falls.

A skeleton staff remained to keep Hydro's operation running until they were forced to leave June 25, after a raging forest fire jumped the Churchill River and moved closer to the town and its power plant.

With the improvement of weather conditions, like increased humidity in the air, low temperatures and rainfall, some essential workers were able to return a few days later.

In Wednesday's announcement, the town said work is being done to fully restore services in the town, and that a boil water advisory is in effect.

Fuel services and grocery stores will reopen on Thursday. The grocery store will reopen at noon AT and close at 8 p.m. The hours for fuel services will be posted as soon as they are available.

The town is encouraging residents to begin their travels home in the morning as a safety precaution.

Hydro employees and families will be contacted directly to discuss travel preparations and are asked not to book air travel until they have been contacted.

As of Wednesday evening, nine wildfires are still burning in Labrador.

Earlier Wednesday, provincial forest fire duty officer Laurie Holloway said the situation around Churchill Falls had been 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.

The lifting of the evacuation order means that the plant will return to normal activity — as will the residents in their daily lives.

"As you all start preparing for your travels home, we wish you a safe journey and look forward to seeing you soon," he town said.

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