Eastern Canadian province imposes fire ban after blaze forces evacuation of town

By Saadeq Ahmed

TORONTO (Reuters) - The Canadian Atlantic province of Newfoundland and Labrador on Thursday imposed a partial fire ban after an out-of-control blaze forced the evacuation of a town close to a huge underground power plant.

Several hundred people were forced to leave Churchill Falls late on Wednesday and take the only road out of town to Happy Valley-Goose Bay, some 300 km (185 miles) to the east.

Churchill Falls is in Labrador, a remote and sparsely territory that has an area of around 300,000 sq km (116,000 sq miles). The province also includes the island of Newfoundland.

"The bulk of our assets are deployed in Labrador right now and as a result we want to make sure we don't have subsequent, other threats that could dilute efforts in fighting the fire," premier Andrew Furey told reporters.

The ban covers all of Newfoundland and the more inhabited parts of Labrador. Canada, which suffered its worst-ever year of wildfires in 2023, is likely to see more activity than normal in June and July, government officials said last week.

The Churchill Falls plant, with a generating capacity of 5,428 megawatts, is the largest hydroelectric generating plant in the province and is the second largest underground hydroelectric plant in North America.

The provincial power generating company said the blaze was around 5 km from the plant, which is operating normally.

"Forecasts are not favorable ... a small crew remains on site to operate the plant as long it is safe to do so," it said in a statement. The plant also supplies electricity to neighboring Quebec.

Authorities are using four water bombers and up to four helicopters equipped with water buckets, Churchill Falls officials said on Thursday.

The province is currently dealing with seven active wildfires, four of which are considered out of control.

(Reporting by Saadeq Ahmed, editing by David Ljunggren and Aurora Ellis)