It must have been with a weary feeling that residents of Seal Cove, Fortune Bay, went to bed on Friday and Saturday nights (May 4 and 5). It is kind of discomforting to look out your living room window before going to bed and see the fire on the hillside, one that had been burning since noon on Friday.
According to fire chief Carl Loveless, the fire started accidentally near the garbage dump on Friday. He thinks that a piece of burning debris may have ignited the brush nearby, and the fire spread to the west from there. “Thank goodness the wind was northeast,” he said. “The fire was burning towards the ocean and up over the western hills, away from the town. If the wind had been southwest, it could have been a different story.”
Once he learned about the fire, Mr. Loveless notified the Department of Natural Resources – Forestry Division and a ground crew was dispatched immediately from Bishop’s Falls. When they arrived in Seal Cove, they were assisted by members of the Seal Cove Volunteer Fire Brigade who helped them get the generator and hoses in place and then in spraying some of the flareups. All Friday night the volunteer firefighters maintained a vigil, concerned that the fire would cross the road and head towards their community.
By Saturday noon a helicopter was on the scene, dumping a large bucket of water at a time on one of the many flareups which increased in intensity each time the flames reached a patch of trees and /or shrubs. Everyone knew a water bomber was needed, but they were unable to get out of St. John’s or Gander because of the fog. It led one onlooker to comment that the work being done by the helicopter was the same as “spitting on your campfire to put it out”.
What a mixed blessing the northeast wind was: it kept the water bombers fogged in at their bases, but it kept the fire away from the town itself.
Meanwhile Carl could do little more than sit on his quad and run back and forth with messages and food for the ground crew (sandwiches having being prepared by a number of the church ladies). Sitting on his quad, he told the Coaster correspondent that the fire departments in Hermitage and Harbour Breton had called and had alerted their members to stand by in case they were needed.
Two water bombers did arrive later in the afternoon, but after they left, there were still many flareups so the Seal Cove firefighters along with other volunteers from the town arranged shifts for another long night.
On Sunday morning Mr. Loveless said that the night was a quiet one for them. “We had a couple of small showers, and the wind eased off. The fire stayed on the west side of the road, thank God.”
The water bombers returned on Sunday, and at the end of the day things were under control in the immediate area. However, smoke and fire could be seen on the distant hills as by now the fire had burnt close to the area around Chain Hill on Grole Road. The Seal Cove firefighters went to bed for the first time in three nights, no doubt still a night of uneasy sleep.
The fire was a stubborn one. Firefighters say that a ground fire is the most difficult fire to fight. The water bombers and the helicopter continued their work on Monday and Tuesday, and by Tuesday afternoon Mr. Loveless was told by the ground crew that the fire was contained. However, the ground crew would remain in Seal Cove for the rest of the week to deal with hot spots.
“We are relieved,” he said, his voice both excited and weary. “I want to thank my firefighters and the volunteers from Seal Cove who have been monitoring the situation since Friday. It has been a tough five days.”
On the hills around the town is a lot of scorched earth, an area eight kilometers long and three kilometers wide blackened by the fire (figures reported by the forestry workers). It will be a reminder to the townspeople of five days in May, 2012, that will take them a long time to forget.