ST. JOHN’S, N.L.—Tina Andrews woke April 12 to the lingering smell of smoke and the knowledge that settled on so many residents of Bay de Verde, N.L.: it wasn’t just a nightmare.
Their sprawling fish plant, an economic engine for the pretty seaside town on Newfoundland’s eastern edge, really was a smouldering ruin after a fierce blaze. Hundreds of vital jobs also went up in those billows of black ash, but owners the Quinlan Brothers offered some much needed reassurance.
“There has been a great loss of physical assets but all of it can be and will be replaced,” the company said in a statement.
“The company is fully insured and it will rebuild at Bay de Verde as quickly as possible.”
It also said it can serve fish harvesters “as normal” with backup plans for processing.
“The company is working ’round the clock to put in place arrangements with other producers to add capacity, increase shifts, etc., that will ensure seafood landed is processed in a timely and high quality manner.”
Andrews lives just two blocks from the fish plant.
“There’s dust and, I guess it’s soot and ash, all over the furniture,” she said of damage left by thick smoke as the fire burned throughout Monday. Still, Andrews feels luckier than most to still have a job as a gas attendant in the nearby town of Old Perlican.
As the investigation into the cause of the fire continues, many of her neighbours have no idea what to do next, she said.
Fisheries Minister Steve Crocker, whose district includes Bay de Verde, knew many of the 700 people who worked in the plant.
“Any time a tragedy like this happens, it’s awful,” he said in an interview. “But as a province, we’ll rebuild. We’ve seen this in the past.
“I look forward to this being a short interruption.”
Crocker said he’ll work with Quinlan Brothers to help displaced workers and ensure millions of pounds of seafood are processed at other sites. It’s possible labourers affected, including 43 who arrived earlier this month from Thailand, could be added to extra shifts at plants in nearby towns, he added.
Crocker said the plant is the province’s largest snow crab producer and processed about seven million kilograms last year. It was expected to ramp up its annual run starting this month through November.
The fisheries minister is also looking to Ottawa for some help. Many workers are home from Alberta after the oil sector collapse and were counting on income from the plant, along with hours toward employment insurance benefits.
Employment Minister MaryAnn Mihychuk said that Service Canada officials are setting up an office in the region where workers can get advice.
“All of Canada was shocked to see such a horrific fire,” she said in an interview. “It’s going to rock Bay de Verde and the whole region. So we’ll work with the company, we want to be there, we’re there already and we intend to stay and help the folks that lost their jobs for this year.”
Andrews said the brightness in a dark time is how people from the area and far beyond have offered everything from cash donations to spare rooms and sandwiches.
People are also especially grateful to regional firefighters who risked their lives containing a ferocious blaze that could have been much worse, she said.
“What they did, it’s absolutely amazing.”