Massive wildfire in Nova Scotia has coastal town of Shelburne on edge

HALIFAX – The largest wildfire ever recorded in Nova Scotia continued to grow Thursday as an adjacent fire in the southwestern corner of the province kept the coastal city of Shelburne on edge.

In all, there were four wildfires in the province burning out of control on Thursday, including the massive Barrington Lake fire in Shelburne County, which grew to more than 200 square kilometers despite constant bombardment of water and fire retardant. of a fleet of water bombers. and tanker aircraft.

But a much smaller fire that started on Wednesday received immediate attention after it prompted evacuations south of Shelburne, which is home to 1,300 people. Within hours, the local Roseway Hospital was evacuated and residents began preparing to leave.

“It jumped up pretty quickly with the high winds, low (moisture) and high temperatures,” Dave Rockwood, a spokesman for the Department of Natural Resources, said at a briefing on Thursday. “We’re hitting it very hard and fast.”

The two fires have forced more than 5,000 people to leave their homes and cabins, 50 of whom have been consumed by the flames. Natural Resources Minister Tory Rushton said the Barrington Lake fire was under “major airstrike”.

“This is a very active fire and we cannot risk putting firefighters in charge of this,” he told reporters. The minister said six more water pumps would fly from the United States on Friday and over the weekend, and that an unspecified number of firefighters from the United States and Costa Rica were on their way.

Meanwhile, Halifax city officials began breaking the news to residents whose homes were lost to a fast-moving wildfire after they were evacuated earlier this week from the city’s northwest subdivisions.

“As you can imagine, that is a difficult process,” Halifax Mayor Mike Savage said Thursday. “It is being handled with the utmost care and respect for those who have been devastated by this loss.”

Savage went on to reveal that at least two people in the Halifax area were fined Wednesday night after one was caught igniting leaves with a propane torch and another decided to build a campfire, violations of a province-wide burning ban. .

In all, there were four wildfires in the province that raged out of control on Thursday, including the massive Barrington Lake fire in Shelburne County, which has grown to more than 200 square kilometers.

“This is a clear violation of the ‘no bullshit’ policy,” the mayor said.

Deputy Fire Chief David Meldrum said an audit of damaged and destroyed properties has been completed, but he was unable to provide the latest figures.

Firefighters previously said 200 structures, including 151 homes, have been claimed by the fire in suburban Halifax, which has been burning out of control since Sunday, much like the Barrington Lake fire. In all, 16,000 Halifax area residents have been evacuated from their homes.

In southwestern Nova Scotia, the number of displaced people may not be as large, but the level of fear is just as high.

Amanda Sutherland, owner of The Cooper’s Inn in downtown Shelburne, said some of her staff had to leave the area and several Barrington Lake fire evacuees stayed at the inn.

“People are checking in on other family members, and every morning at breakfast, there’s at least one person crying,” he said in an interview Thursday, adding that his bags are already packed in case one is ordered. evacuation.

“I have a couple that is with me right now who one day said they thought their house was gone, and the next day they say, ‘We think it’s okay.’ It’s just a roller coaster of emotions… It’s heartbreaking.”

Sutherland said the city’s long, narrow harbor has been teeming with water pumps scooping up water and heading towards the fires. He said he hasn’t spent much time worrying about the destruction.

“You sort of go into crisis mode,” he said in a calm, even voice. “We’re making sure everyone else is okay… I’m focusing my energy on what I can do instead of the helplessness you feel when you realize it’s beyond your control.”

Earlier in the day, firefighters announced that the Halifax fire had been 50 percent contained and confirmed that it had not grown since Wednesday but was still out of control.

Still, the mayor said that could be counted as a victory.

“So far we have not reported any missing or injured people,” Savage said. “It’s a miracle and a testament to the quick work of the first responders.”

Despite the good news, authorities said firefighters were still dealing with dry conditions and rising temperatures. But by early afternoon, it was clear that not much had changed on the Halifax-area fire, mainly because the strong gusts that were expected never showed up.

“We still feel pretty good about this site,” Meldrum said at an afternoon briefing at a command post in Upper Tantallon, NS “But there is still a very large risk at this site.”

Cooler temperatures and steady showers are not expected until Friday night, although the forecast called for some spotty showers throughout the day.

In Ottawa, federal officials announced that more than 300 firefighters from the United States and South Africa are heading to Canada to battle an unprecedented wildfire season. In addition, the Canadian Armed Forces have been tasked with providing help with logistics.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published on June 1, 2023.

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