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Unprecedented Wildfire on Canada’s Atlantic Coast

Written by on June 2, 2023

An unprecedented string of wildfires in Canada’s Atlantic Coast province of Nova Scotia continued to burn out of control for a fourth day on Wednesday, preventing thousands of evacuees from trying to see whether their homes have been destroyed.

Fire officials were hoping for a break in the dry, windy weather, but that’s not forecast to happen until Friday night at the earliest.

Halifax deputy fire chief David Meldrum made it clear that none of the 16,000 evacuees from the suburbs around Halifax would be able to return home for now. Another 2,000 people who fled a much larger uncontained fire in southwestern Nova Scotia also were being kept away from their properties.

Fire officials said an estimated 200 structures, including 151 homes, had been destroyed since the fire started in the Upper Tantallon area on Sunday afternoon. No deaths or injuries have been reported, but “it’s the site of a tragedy,” Meldrum said.

“There’s widespread destruction, and there’s a level of randomness that comes with wildfires when they hit … where people live. There are properties that are unharmed close to properties that are destroyed. It’s terrible to see. These are people’s homes,” the deputy fire chief said.

Meldrum said the 8.4-square kilometer fire northwest of the port city’s downtown grew slightly overnight and could flare up again in the warmer than usual weather. Wind gusts from the southwest were expected to reach 25 kilometers per hour, and the temperature was forecast to rise to about 25 C (77 F), with the humidity remaining very low at around 20%.

Meldrum said the fire could quickly grow and spread, which is why the Halifax area’s 100-square-kilometer evacuation zone will remain in place.

Halifax Mayor Mike Savage said charges would be brought against anyone burning outdoors, and that anyone responsible for starting a wildfire could be required to pay expenses relating to controlling or extinguishing the blaze, along with any related damages.

“We are taking a no-tolerance approach,” Savage said.

The much larger fire that forced 2,000 people to flee outside Barrington has grown to almost 200 square kilometers since it started last weekend, making it one of largest ever recorded in Nova Scotia.

Nova Scotia Premier Tim Houston declared a ban on all travel and activity in wooded areas, and he implored people to avoid any activity that could start more fires.

“Don’t be burning right now. No burning in Nova Scotia. Conservation officers reported six illegal burns last night. This is absolutely ridiculous with what’s happening in this province — three out-of-control fires, eight fires yesterday, 12 on Sunday. Do not burn!” Houston said Tuesday. “We have to do what we can to make sure we don’t have new fires popping up.”

Scott Tingley, the forest protection manager in the province’s wildfire management group, said it was safe to say that all of these fires were “very likely human-caused.”

“Much of it probably is preventable. Accidents do happen and so that’s why we certainly appreciate the premier’s message,” Tingley said.

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