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Clarenville Forest Fire - 1961

The summer of 1961 was the worst in living memory for forest fires in Newfoundland. One of the biggest fires that year descended on Clarenville. It came to local attention about mid-week. A minor blaze had been reported near the upper reaches of Dunn's River on the Burin Peninsula. By the weekend, it had become enough of a curiosity to go have a look. Fire has a terrible fascination for most people.

The fire was visible from the highway but the local forestry officials were not too concerned about it. It was not threatening any substantial stands of timber or any communities and was, therefore, not worth bothering about. This may seem a rather cavalier attitude, but it must be taken in context with the events of the time. Fire-fighting resources were thinly spread all over the island and in Labrador. They were battling more blazes than had ever been encountered before. With so many fires to deal with, the smaller ones, that posed no immediate threat, were often left to their own devices in the hopes that they would burn themselves out.

Such was the case with the Dunn's River fire. Perhaps inadvertently set by anglers fishing the river, as there was no lightening in the area at the time, the fire had confined itself to an area covered mostly by alders and berry bogs.

Some 60 kilometers south of Clarenville, trying to consume a bog, this was no fire to worry about. Within a week the call went out for volunteers! Fanned by high winds, it began a relentless march in our direction. While it never endangered the Burin Peninsula highway to its east, it spread its western flank as far as Island Pond as it progressed northward, consuming valuable timber and eventually threatening us.

Clarenville was right in the line of fire. A special train was waiting at the station to help evacuate the town. It was already full and just waiting for the order to go. It was to head down the Bonavista branch line as the main line was under threat from fires both east and west of the town. It was that kind of summer.

The wind that had driven the fire north up the spine of the Burin Peninsula to the outskirts of Clarenville, changed direction and drove the fire north-west towards Port Blandford.

The Van Doos of the Canadian Army arrived from New Brunswick to man the fire-line shoulder to shoulder with the local volunteers. At the end of a long hard day as many as 200 Van Doos bedded down in the Clarenville Stadium.

Courtesy: Journey Through Time - Clarenville, Hub of the East Coast

Note: The above is just some of the information you can find on this and other topics in "Journey Through Time - Clarenville, Hub of the East Coast" By Bob Hyslop