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300 homes evacuated, one destroyed by forest fires in southwestern New Brunswick

A forest fire that forced hundreds of evacuations and destroyed a home in southwestern New Brunswick remained out of control on Monday afternoon, though officials said they were hopeful things would soon change.

The fire raging near the towns of Bocabec and Chamcook was pummelled from above by seven water bombers, while crews from 13 different fire departments in the region attacked the flames from the ground, said Kevin Theriault, chief of the fire department in Saint Andrews, N.B. The fire had stopped spreading up into the trees, and was instead smouldering close to the ground, he said.

Crews hoped to have the fires under control later on Monday or some time on Tuesday, Theriault told reporters, adding: "But this will be a long, drawn-out firefight for everybody."

New Brunswick Premier Blaine Higgs said it was "a very extreme situation," adding that an "unprecedented" number of fires -- about 15 -- had started on Sunday alone.

Theriault said crews got a call on Sunday at about 1:30 p.m. about an all-terrain vehicle fire in Chamcook. When they arrived, they found the ATV ablaze and the flames spreading into the woods. Propelled by winds and parched conditions, the fire quickly leapt "from hilltop to hilltop to hilltop," he said.

"The fire travelled too fast to be controlled, and we ended up with the situation we're in now with a major forest fire on our hands in Chamcook and Bocabec," Theriault said. He estimated the fire covered more than two square kilometres as of Monday morning.

Saint Andrews, N.B., Mayor Brad Henderson said earlier Monday that officials had evacuated about 400 homes, but Theriault said that figure was closer to 300. The fire chief said evacuees wouldn't be able to return to their homes on Monday night, but he was hopeful they'd go home some time on Tuesday.

In the meantime, the arena in Saint Andrews was open as an emergency centre for those who needed food, shelter or somewhere to charge their phones.

The fire destroyed one home, but Theriault said the people who lived there were safe. There were other homes surrounded by flames, but crews were able to protect them, he said.

Firefighters from New Brunswick were sent to help other jurisdictions battle blazes, including Nova Scotia, where a fire in suburban Halifax forced more than 14,000 people to flee their homes. Higgs said they had all returned to the province, as had the firefighting aircraft sent to help outside New Brunswick.

There were 12 fires burning across the province on Monday, according to the government's latest fire activity report.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 29, 2023. Top Stories

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