Campers near Brigus Junction stomp out small forest fire

Melissa Jenkins
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Quick response by Brigus and Chapel Cove families after spotting midnight blaze

A small forest fire that broke out not far from the Route 70 turnoff near the Trans-Canada Highway over the May 24 weekend was put out by some nearby campers.

It was almost midnight on May 17, and a group of some 20 adults and children from Brigus, Chapel Cove and Brigus Junction were camping at Cat Hill Gullies near Conception Harbour when the fire was spotted.

Raelene Wall of Brigus told The Compass on May 19, she, along with several other campers, noticed some “weird lights” in the distance. The group believed the lights were Chinese lanterns, but then they saw flames.

“We thought it must be just a campfire when we saw the lights,” she explained.

But it wasn't just a campfire. Kathleen Wall, Raelene’s sister-in-law, also saw the flames.

“We were sitting around (our own campfire) and we noticed that there was a small fire out on the hill (across the highway),” Kathleen, who is from Avondale but lives in Chapel Cove, said. “About an hour later, there was another one and it was bigger.”

Fear of spreading

Kevin Wall, Raelene’s husband, is a volunteer firefighter with the Brigus Volunteer Fire Department. He called 911 when the fires began to spread and combine into a single fire. He was informed there were already police officers on site.

“(Kevin) spoke with someone who said that (the Department of Natural Resources) forestry (division) was notified and would be responding,” Raelene explained.

Kathleen and her husband Bobby decided to get on their all-terrain vehicle in the dark to wait for the department, while Raelene and Kevin stayed behind with the children.

“We went in towards Brigus Junction, up the pole line by the fire tower, just the two of us to check where (the fire) was,” Kathleen said.

While Kathleen and Bobby searched, Raelene, Kevin and the children watched in the distance as the fire grew.

“It was pretty scary,” Raelene admitted. “We were here, in the woods, what if it spread so fast we couldn’t get out? We were thinking of packing up our stuff and getting out of there.”

The children had a different reaction.

“The kids weren’t scared, they wanted to check it out,” she continued.

Needing help

Kathleen and Bobby initially couldn’t find the fire, so they went to get some assistance from a few locals.

They came across Gerry Smith and Jimmy Gushue of Brigus Junction, who joined them. The fire was found near Gerry’s home.

“Gerry called the cops because there was nobody up there,” Kathleen said. “They said there was no one coming,”

At the time the fire was found, the flames had died down slightly.

Kathleen, Bobby, Gerry and Jimmy realized the fire would continue to burn and get closer to the nearby homes if they didn’t do something. The foursome grabbed tree boughs and began to bat the flames, and then stomp on them.

“I was afraid because I didn’t know how big it was,” Kathleen explained. “It was 4:15 a.m. before the fire was out.”

Kathleen ended up with a small burn on her leg, but everyone was safe. And everyone at the site of the fire, as well as at the camp, were happy it was out.

Too dark for fire response

"No police, no forestry, no firetrucks," Raelene described the response from emergency services.

This was not the only fire that night.

Spokesperson for the Department of Natural Resources, Diana Quinton, confirmed the department had responded to several fires the same day. The locations were not specified, but Holyrood RCMP only confirmed a single fire in its coverage area, Brigus Junction.

“The department was in contact with the RCMP and a local resident who was at the fire scene,” the spokesperson wrote in an email to The Compass. “The resident advised the fire was almost out and was told by the department that no fire crew would respond at that time given the fire situation, safety concerns while responding at night and low risk potential.”

The size of the fire was some 200 metres by 100 metres “over rough terrain, about one kilometre from the road.”

A flare was found on scene by Kathleen, and was later recorded as a possible cause by the department when they inspected the site the next morning.

Quinton confirmed fires that take place after sunset are monitored by the department, but the decision to respond is based on the situation.

“(It) is based on several factors, including current weather conditions, short-term forecast, life at risk, values at risk, reported location of the fire and perceived urgency of the situation. The department does not respond to structure or cabin fires,” the email said.

There have been 20 forest fires confirmed in the province to date, but none are currently burning.

RCMP reminder

Cpl. Trevor O’Keefe of the Holyrood RCMP detachment told The Compass a fire had been reported, but it burnt itself out. He was unaware campers aided in extinguishing it.

“People have to be smart about it, they can’t be out in the middle of the woods setting off flares,” he stated.

Although the weather has been a bit damp, the changes in weather can feed a forest fire.

O’Keefe explained it is not safe in hot or dry conditions to be creating any type of flame while surrounded by trees, and campers should avoid doing so to prevent fires from starting and spreading.

Melissa.jenkins@tc.tc

Organizations: The Compass, Department of Natural Resources, Brigus Volunteer Fire Department RCMP

Geographic location: Brigus, Conception Harbour

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