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New Brunswick wildfire remains out of control, but residents cleared to return home

New Brunswick residents who were forced to leave their homes in the south of the province this week because of a raging wildfire are being told it's safe to return.

Saint Andrews, N.B., Mayor Brad Henderson said residents in the Bocabec and Chamcook areas of the municipality can either return home or, if they prefer, spend another night in a temporary shelter set up in Saint Andrews.

The aftermath of a forest fire in Bocabec, N.B., on May 30, 2023. (Nick Moore/CTV Atlantic)

Roadblocks put up on the main route out of Saint Andrews will be taken down, he told a news conference Tuesday.

"Although the firefighters are definitely feeling confident about the distance between structures, it is still an active fire," he said. "You still have to be aware of your surroundings."

One house was destroyed and about 300 people were forced from homes in communities surrounding Saint Andrews after a fire started by an all-terrain vehicle spread to about a two-and-a-half square kilometre area by Monday morning.

People were allowed to return home despite the active fire after consultations with fire officials, Henderson said in an interview.

"It's more of a situation, it appears, where it is hot spots that they're just putting out versus a big engulfed flame," he said. "The fire is not considered out of control near any residential areas .... I wouldn't say that it's necessarily out of control. It's just not contained."

Firefighters from the Lawrence Station Fire Department deliver water to the scene of a forest fire in Bocabec, N.B., on May 30, 2023. (Nick Moore/ CTV Atlantic)

Roger Collet, wildfire management officer with the New Brunswick Department of Natural Resources, said crews have made progress containing the fire and protecting homes. He said 220 hot spots were identified, mostly on top of mountains, and they will be closely monitored by fire officials.

Water bombers spread long-term fire retardant -- colloquially known as "red stuff" -- to establish perimeters and keep the fire within boundaries, he said.

"We're going to keep monitoring all the time," Collet said. "If we think things are starting to ramp up a little, we certainly won't hesitate to (order evacuations) again if we need to. But right now we're confident enough that we think it's going to hold."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 30, 2023.

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