Fishing boats and helicopters supply fire-cut central Newfoundland towns the size of six Sable Islands

Diane Mullins managed to find bags of split peas at the local grocery store in Harbor Breton on Tuesday morning, enough to avoid the cancellation of pea soup Thursday at the cafe she runs in town.

However, Mullins and his staff have had to resort to baking their own bread to make enough to make grilled cheese sandwiches and other menu items available at Dockside Cafe this week.

After a week of the Bay D’Espoir Highway being closed due to two major wildfires, supplies are starting to run out.

At the Clover Farm grocery store in St. Alban’s on Newfoundland’s Connaigre Peninsula, they ran out of fresh chicken last Monday.

“Our shelves are emptying,” said manager Jennifer Collier. “We are completely out of milk, eggs and fresh meat.”

Collier told SaltWire that people are worried about deliveries of food and other supplies to the area.

“We only have one gas station in this town,” she added, “and right now they’re only selling supreme gasoline, and they’re limiting sales to emergency vehicles. uniquely.”

Rainfall in the region today has helped create a window of opportunity.

The town of St. Alban's is located on the Connaigre Peninsula of Newfoundland and Labrador.  - City of St. Alban website
The town of St. Alban’s is located on the Connaigre Peninsula of Newfoundland and Labrador. – City of St. Alban website

At a press conference on Tuesday afternoon, Premier Andrew Furey said the Bay D’Espoir highway would be open today, allowing the delivery of some supplies.

However, the fire grew overnight to cover an area of ​​around 200 square kilometers, and it is still considered “out of control (and) very active”, he said.

The highway may not be passable for long, he warned.

“It’s an hour-to-hour situation,” Furey said.

A provincial government ferry that was being diverted from Lewisporte to the south coast – to go from the Burin Peninsula to the Connaigre to carry people and supplies – broke down before arriving in Fortune, leaving the government to try to find a plan B.

Meanwhile, the private company Cooke Aquaculture stepped in to help.

Today the company, which operates a salmon farm in Hermitage, said it will send two ships and a dozen crew to Fortune early Wednesday morning to pick up groceries and deliver them to isolated communities.

“The ships, Big Dipper and Fortune Princess, will deliver up to 75 pallets of food and supplies to local residents,” the company said in a press release Tuesday afternoon.

Joel Richardson, Cooke’s vice president of public relations, said the company is coordinating its efforts with the province’s emergency operations center, Hermitage Mayor Steve Crewe, Deputy Mayor of Harbor Breton, Roy Drake, MPP Elvis Loveless and support from other organizations including the Canadian Red Cross. .

During a normal week, Atlantic Grocery Distributors in Bay Roberts would send two 50-foot tractor-trailers of grocery supplies to communities on the Connaigre Peninsula.

John Pritchett, General Manager of Retail for Atlantic Grocery Distributors - File photo
John Pritchett, General Manager of Retail for Atlantic Grocery Distributors – File photo

John Pritchett, the company’s general manager of retail, said arranging food deliveries in the area had been difficult for the past two weeks.

“When the freeway opened up last week, we managed to get a truck through,” he said.

Then the winds turned making it risky to travel on the highway.

Their truck driver had to stay in Harbor Breton for most of the week, managing to hitch a ride to the Burin Peninsula when a ferry from Bay L’Argent was hijacked to provide transport.

With the highway reopening on Tuesday, thanks to the rain helping to clear the smoke, AGD sent another transport truck to deliver goods.

They were also told on Monday that the province would provide helicopter service to airlift food cargo.

However, fresh meats and perishables cannot be shipped this way.

This meant extra work for Pritchett and other staff to rearrange initial customer orders on the Connaigre, removing fresh meats and perishables and ensuring they had essential items packed for the day. elevator.

Harbor Breton, Newfoundland.  - Wikimedia Commons
Harbor Breton, Newfoundland. – Wikimedia Commons

They arranged for a tractor-trailer and driver to meet the helicopter at Winterland and hold there for the loading and reloading operation throughout the day.

“We are working to get supplies there, any way we can,” Pritchett told SaltWire, “by land, sea or air.”

He added that the provincial government has “communicated well” with the company, given that it is one of the main grocery distributors on the island.

“The government has been as good as it can be,” he said, noting, “there’s really no way to plan this well because the situation can change so quickly, every day.”

Pritchett added that if fresh produce (milk, eggs and meats) cannot be transported by truck, the only other option is the sea.

Refrigerated containers are the only way to ship fresh food, he said, and to do that their only option is to have access to ferries that can handle these containers.

This is not the first emergency the company has faced.

In 2012, Hurricane Igor cut off hundreds of communities along the Bonavista and Burin peninsulas, making it impossible to get supplies by road for more than a week in some areas.

The COVID pandemic has also created challenges, he said.

“Our team is very mission-driven,” he added. “They know how important it is to get people food.”

Until this wildfire is extinguished, he said, Atlantic Grocery Distributors will continue to monitor the situation daily and find ways to supply these south coast communities.

“We’re all going to get through this together.”

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