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Residents return home after harrowing evacuation from ‘blast zone’ of Labrador fire

April 20, 2024  By Sarah Smellie, The Canadian Press

Damage from fire at the old airport in Happy Valley-Goose Bay, a community of about 7,000 people in central Labrador is shown in this handout image provided by the RCMP. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO-RCMP

People living in the “blast zone” of a central Labrador structure fire were able to return to their homes on Saturday after officials ended an evacuation order because there was no longer any risk of explosions.

Monica Legge was nervous Saturday morning as she packed up her belongings after she spent the night at a friends’ house. She and her husband and their six dogs had fled their home on Friday night as flames engulfed the old airport in Happy Valley-Goose Bay, N.L., just a few metres away.

They’d all heard what sounded like an explosion that night, and the ground rattled beneath them, she said.

“It was just like, ‘Oh my God, now what? Are we going to have anything to come back to?'” she said in an interview.


Legge and her husband were eating dinner Friday when messages about the fire began to light up their phones. She looked out the window and didn’t see anything of concern, but then she went out to her building’s back deck and looked toward the old airport.

Flames were ripping through the tower, sending a churning column of black smoke up into the sky. A low-lying building nearby was also fully engulfed.

There are oxygen tanks stored at the facility, and she began to worry they’d blow up.

“It was very scary,” she said. “The buildings located in this area, they are all very old, even the building that we live in was built in the 1950s. So you can imagine how well-aged and well-dried-out the wood is.”

As she watched the flames devour the buildings, police came by and told her to get out. The officers said her house was in the “blast zone,” and everyone in the area had to evacuate. The town of Happy Valley-Goose Bay declared a state of emergency at around 10:30 p.m.

Brad Butler, the community’s fire chief, said the tanks were full of liquid oxygen, and they posed a real danger. He said once the fire churned through the tower and ate into the old hangar building where the tanks were stored, he and his crew had to evacuate, too.

“You just let the fires burn and you get as far away as you can,” he said in an interview Saturday.

The tanks ultimately didn’t explode, but it seemed on Saturday that a transformer had blown up, he said. His crew also found gas cylinders that had blasted out of the building and landed about 30 metres away, he said.

The fire was out and crews had left by about 3 p.m. on Saturday, he said. Police were still there waiting to start their investigation into what happened.

Legge arrived back at her house early Saturday afternoon and found it was intact, with nothing damaged or out of place.

“Never been so happy in my life to come home!” she wrote in a Facebook message after she arrived.

The town lifted the state of emergency, but said the site of the actual fire was still dangerous.

“We implore the general public to remain away from the area while firefighters and RCMP remain on scene in the coming hours and possibly days,” the town said in a Facebook post.

Happy Valley-Goose Bay is in central Labrador and is home to about 7,000 people, making it the second-largest town in the region.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 20, 2024.

News from © Canadian Press Enterprises Inc., 2023


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