Water bomber, helicopter help extinguish fires behind Health Sciences Centre under control

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Emergency crews have put out fires in the forested area in St. John’s behind the Health Sciences Centre, the largest hospital in Newfoundland and Labrador.

Smoke and flames were first seen billowing from the trees on Mount Scio just after 1 p.m. Tuesday, but by 7 p.m. the fire was out and Mount Scio Road was re-opened to traffic. 

St. John’s Regional Fire Department Deputy Chief Robert Fowler said a Royal Newfoundland Constabulary officer in the area happened to notice the brush fire and called the fire department. 

“We responded. There was a major fire up behind the Autism Society up there — it grew pretty quick,” he said. 

By 3 p.m. crews were working on “at least three fires,” with other little hot spots as well, and Platoon Chief Dean Foley said the situation was “under control” shortly thereafter.

Officials from the province’s forestry department were on site as well, as the fire department required support from one of its water bombers and a helicopter. 

“It was substantial. It was out of our reach. We brought hose lines in as far as we could,” said Foley. “We contained the fire — we knocked down as much as we could, but the fire was so widespread that we needed a water bomber to come into the area.” 

Two sources of fire and smoke can be seen in the forested area behind the Health Sciences Centre in St. John’s on Tuesday afternoon. (Ryan Cooke/CBC)

Firefighters were pulled out of the woods around 2:30 p.m. when the helicopter and water bomber reached the scene, loading water from nearby Long Pond to dump on the flames. Ground crews continued efforts to put out hot spots later in the afternoon. 

St. John’s Regional Fire Department Deputy Chief Robert Fowler says crews were dealing with multiple fires. (Ted Dillon/CBC)

Cause of fires unknown

Fowler said the fires are not suspicious and may not be connected, given the dry summer and high winds. 

“Given the wind conditions today if one fire starts up it’s very easy for it to spread and cause multiple fires. Especially with these fires, a larger fire like that, what’ll happen is once it gains a bit of momentum, if it gets up in the tops of the trees, that’s when it can move pretty quickly,” said Fowler. 

However, his colleague had a different take on the situation. When asked if the fire appeared to have spread across Mount Scio, Foley said they seemed to be separate fires.

“That would be an investigation of the RNC. They’ll determine what happened,” said Foley. 

Winds in the area were high Tuesday afternoon. (CBC)

The first significant fire was behind the Autism Society building, with a second closer to Rainbow Riders. 

A spokesperson for the RNC said it’s too soon to tell whether the fires were suspicious or connected Tuesday afternoon, but police are asking people to contact them if anyone saw anything suspicious in the area.

Evacuating horses

Shortly after 2 p.m. the RNC closed Mount Scio Road to traffic in order to allow the fire department to work on the fires, with crews at Rainbow Riders to try to access the fires from that location. 

Fowler said the fire department asked the organization to evacuate its 15 horses as a precaution, in case the wind changed. 

Kelly Sandoval, executive director of Rainbow Riders, said their friends at the Autism Society called to let them know about the fire after the Autism building was evacuated. Then they were told to prepare the horses for evacuation. 

“This is a first for me; however, we have a very, very tight horse community and a lot of our volunteers and a lot of our staff know exactly what to do,” said Sandoval. 

Kelly Sandoval, executive director of Rainbow Riders, says preparing the horses for evacuation Tuesday was a first for her. (Ted Dillon/CBC)

“Getting [trailers] for 15 horses is no easy feat, but we managed to get enough and so what we’re doing is making sure the horses are kept calm, because certainly there’s a lot of noise and chaos right now,” she said as a water bomber flew overhead. 

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