Canada’s Nova Scotia appeals for help amid ‘unprecedented’ fires

Premier says eastern Canadian province will ‘take all the support we can get’ as crews battle out-of-control blazes.

Smoke from a wildfire in Nova Scotia rises over homes in nearby Bedford, Canada
Smoke from the Tantallon Fire rises over houses in nearby Bedford, Nova Scotia, on May 28 [Eric Martyn/Reuters]

Authorities in the eastern Canadian province of Nova Scotia have appealed for outside help, as firefighters battle raging wildfires that have forced more than 16,000 people from their homes.

Nova Scotia’s Premier Tim Houston said on Wednesday that his government had received assistance from other provinces, including several water bombers, and had contacted officials in the northeastern United States to seek additional resources.

Dozens of firefighters have been fighting to contain two large out-of-control blazes near the provincial capital of Halifax. Fourteen fires are burning across the province, causing hazy skies and anxiety among residents.

“We are in a crisis in the province. And we want, and we need, and we will take all the support we can get,” Houston said during a news conference.

“Unprecedented resources are being used because these fires are unprecedented.”

Fire officials in Nova Scotia, home to just more than 1 million people on Canada’s Atlantic coast, had warned that gusty winds and low humidity on Wednesday could fuel the Tantallon Fire that continues to burn about 30km (19 miles) west of Halifax.

The blaze has grown to about 837 hectares (2,068 acres), authorities said in a statement, while two others in the Barrington Lake and Pubnico areas were also considered out of control.

The Halifax Regional Municipality said the fires have so far destroyed or damaged more than 200 structures — mostly homes — and forced nearly 16,500 people to flee, but no injuries have been reported.

“People are understandably tired, frustrated and frightened,” said Halifax Mayor Mike Savage.

Houston, the premier, announced late on Tuesday a ban on all activities in Nova Scotia forests, including hiking, camping, fishing, hunting, the use of off-road vehicles and logging. Fines for violating a province-wide burn ban were also increased to $18,400 ($25,000 Canadian).

“For God’s sake, stop burning. Stop flicking cigarette butts out of the car window. Just stop it. Our resources are stretched incredibly thin right now fighting existing fires,” Houston said.

Forest fires also led to evacuations of about 400 homes in the neighbouring province of New Brunswick over the weekend, officials said.

“The stories and the images we’re seeing coming out of Nova Scotia and New Brunswick are heartbreaking,” Prime Minister Justin Trudeau told reporters in Ottawa, pledging federal support.

“We know people are extremely, extremely distressed by what’s going on. As a federal government we are there, we will be there to support,” he said.

Many experts have pointed to climate change as a factor that has worsened extreme weather such as wildfires, heatwaves and tropical storms around the world.

The western Canadian provinces of Alberta and British Columbia also have been dealing with unusually warm weather that has sparked several out-of-control wildfires, cutting the region’s oil and gas production. However, most of those fires have since been brought under control.

The Halifax wildfires are expected to cause poor air quality hundreds of kilometres to the south, in parts of the US East Coast and Midwest, as smoke drifts across the region.

Air quality alerts were in effect for the eastern and western sections of Michigan, northern Ohio and parts of Pennsylvania, New Jersey and New York, given the high concentration of pollutants in the forecast, the US National Weather Service (NWS) said.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies