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An aircraft disperses a mix of water and fire retardant over a fire near Barrington Lake in Shelburne County, N.S. on May 31.HO/The Canadian Press

A severe start to wildfire season has scorched 10 times the average amount of terrain burned during these first weeks over the past decade, leading Ottawa to warn that fires in eight provinces and the Northwest Territories are stretching Canada’s firefighting corps perilously thin with no immediate relief in sight.

Federal Emergency Preparedness Minister Bill Blair told reporters Thursday that this level of wildfire activity on June 1 is unprecedented, forcing tens of thousands of people to flee their homes and burning the equivalent of five million American football fields, or an area almost five times the size of Prince Edward Island.

“Due to climate change, similar extreme weather events may continue to increase in both frequency and severity across our country,” Mr. Blair said.

When big fires are burning in so many different regions, he added, the government is concerned there won’t be enough people and equipment where and when they are needed.

“There are a limited number of resources,” he said.

Burnout is also an issue, as many firefighters work days on end in extremely harsh conditions.

As the situation in Alberta grew quickly out of control in early May, the Canadian military moved in to help, and the Canadian Interagency Forest Fire Centre also helped commission firefighters from other provinces and other countries.

But federal officials said in a briefing to reporters Thursday that the fire situation is troublesome almost everywhere now, and those provinces need their staff back at home.

The centre’s daily report on the fire situation says demand for firefighting personnel and equipment from other jurisdictions “is extreme,” but the “national availability of resources is limited,” so they’re turning to international partners for help.

More than 300 firefighters from the United States and South Africa are heading here in the coming days, with roughly 100 Americans set to arrive in Nova Scotia by Monday to help knock down out-of-control wildfires that have destroyed at least 200 homes and cottages in the Atlantic province. Another 200 firefighters arriving from South Africa will likely end up in Alberta, though officials said the wildfire situation across the country is fluid.

To date, the centre said 566 firefighters have travelled between provinces this year to help other jurisdictions, and another 443 firefighters and other trained experts have come to Canada from the U.S., Australia and New Zealand. Most of them to date have gone to Alberta, where more than a million hectares burned in May and the province remains under a state of emergency.

Canada also has agreements to share firefighters with Mexico and Costa Rica. Federal officials said Thursday they are in talks with Mexico to bring staff up from that country.

Wildfires across the country have so far devoured about 27,000 square kilometres of land, dwarfing the national 10-year average of roughly 500 square kilometres, he said. “These conditions early in the season are unprecedented,” Blair said, adding that Canada is facing a “dangerous” situation. “

Natural Resources Minister Jonathan Wilkinson said Thursday Canada is moving on the first phase of a Wildfire Training Fund to hire and train Indigenous firefighters in their own communities; 300 new firefighters and another 125 Indigenous fire guardians are being trained this season.

His department is also working to help retrain urban and rural municipal firefighters, who are mostly equipped to battle blazes in buildings, to assist in responding to wildfires as they increasingly encroach on urban areas.

Mr. Wilkinson said six provinces and territories have also already taken advantage of a new $256-million federal fund for wildfire equipment. He said he expects all provinces and territories to use it this year.

Mr. Blair said the government accepted Nova Scotia’s request for federal aid almost immediately Wednesday and the military is already preparing to send in additional help.

As of mid-afternoon Thursday, the Canadian Interagency Forest Fire Centre was reporting 209 active fires burning in eight provinces as well as in the Northwest Territories and 87 of them were out of control.

There are about 28,000 people currently evacuated from their homes, including 18,000 in Nova Scotia alone. There were 25,000 evacuees in Alberta in May, with 4,325 of them still out of their homes owing to six active evacuation orders, according to a provincial update Thursday evening.

Several small communities in northeastern B.C. were under orders to leave their homes Thursday as well.

With reports from The Canadian Press

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