BAY DE VERDE, N.L. – Hundreds of people were forced out of their homes and a state of emergency was declared in a small Newfoundland town early Monday after a massive fire swept through a fish plant, blanketing the shoreline community in black smoke.
Gerard Murphy, mayor of Bay de Verde, said he invoked the emergency plan sometime after 6 a.m. when he was alerted to the fire at the Quinlan Brothers plant by a firefighter who came to his door.
When he made his way down the road to a view overlooking the decades-old Quinlan Brothers plant, he says he saw the sprawling plant in flames.
“At first glance I said, ‘It’s going to be a disaster,”‘ he said in an interview from his town council office. “It was the amount of billowing smoke and flames that were visible…It’s a very difficult situation.”
Murphy said four fire departments were trying to contain the blaze, but were battling strong winds that were gusting to 60 kilometres an hour and fuelling the fire.
He said people who were forced out of their homes were being housed at the local school and Lions club, as well as in the neighbouring community of Old Perlican.
Barbie Skulason, whose husband manages one part of the plant and is also with the fire department, said they were alerted to the fire at about 5:30 a.m. She wasn’t asked to leave, but retrieved family members who live closer to the plant that is about two hours northwest of St. John’s.
She got a glimpse of the fire when she headed out to pick up her niece and other relatives.
“It’s raging,” she said. “As soon as you go down over the main hill, you cannot see the other side of the harbour because of the black smoke.”
She said there were concerns a large ammonia tank on the site could further fuel the fire, but Murphy said much of its contents had been released into the air.
Murphy said the blaze at the crab, shrimp and fish plant could be a devastating blow to the area, with the possible loss of 700 seasonal jobs. He said about 60 residents of Bay de Verde work at the plant, but that people travel from nearby communities and across the province to work there. A crew of foreign workers from Thailand had also just arrived to work at the plant.
“We are looking at a tremendous loss this morning,” he said. “You have approximately 700 seasonal jobs lost and the work of a company that took 50 plus years to build up.”
The RCMP says there have not been any reports of injuries.