Nova Scotia is pleading with Ottawa to send more emergency assistance as the province battles four raging wildfires, with gusting winds and dry weather expected to worsen blazes that have already destroyed at least 200 homes and forced the evacuation of more than 21,000 people.
Premier Tim Houston and Halifax Mayor Mike Savage made the urgent appeal Wednesday as other Atlantic provinces and neighbouring American states sent firefighters and equipment to aid the fight against the intense wildfires.
“Now is the time to pitch in with whatever you have,” said Mr. Houston, speaking about the federal government. “And if you have more resources that we may not be aware of or that you think could help in any way, then we just ask please, please send them to Nova Scotia. Nova Scotia needs help right now.”
Mr. Houston said he has made several requests of the federal government this week, including a formal call to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau that includes a wide range of military help, firefighting equipment and assistance for displaced people.
The federal government has already provided some resources, including firefighters, helicopters and trucks. Ottawa also announced that it will match with Nova Scotia all donations made to the Canadian Red Cross to assist people affected by the wildfires.
Bill Blair, federal Minister of Emergency Preparedness, said he’s working to deliver resources requested by Nova Scotia as quickly as possible. “It’s clear that the fires continue to challenge those communities and they need additional resources, and we’ll do everything we can to help them find them,” Mr. Blair told reporters Wednesday.
Mr. Blair said he would track down additional resources from other provinces and territories, as well as from international partners.
In the wooded suburban community of Tantallon in the Halifax area, firefighters spent Wednesday trying to contain a blaze and save houses in a wildfire that has burned for the past four days and ravaged at least 151 homes.
“This weather is increasing in severity,” said Dave Meldrum, deputy chief of Halifax Regional Fire and Emergency, during a press briefing Wednesday evening. “The prognosis is difficult.”
Displaced homeowners were longing to return home as the Halifax-area wildfire evacuation entered its fourth day. Some residents are wondering if their pets are alive, while others want to get to their homes to retrieve medicine, but firefighters say it is still potentially dangerous.
The Canadian Press
Meanwhile, a much larger uncontained fire in southwestern Nova Scotia has forced 2,000 people to leave their homes since the fire started on the weekend in Shelburne County. More than 100 provincial and volunteer firefighters are battling the blaze along with two water bombers from Newfoundland and Labrador and eight airplanes from New Brunswick that are dispersing a mix of water and fire retardant.
As of Wednesday, that fire, northwest of Barrington, N.S., had grown to almost 200 square kilometres, making it one of the largest wildfires ever recorded in the province. Another out-of-control fire is burning near East Pubnico, in southwestern Nova Scotia, at only one square kilometre, but is expected to grow.
Wednesday night, firefighters began battling a new uncontained blaze near Lake Road in Shelburne. A hospital has been evacuated as well as several surrounding communities.
Some people in the Indigo Shores area of suburban Halifax were allowed back into their homes Wednesday evening. However, residents must be prepared to evacuate within 30 minutes’ notice, authorities say.
Questions remain about a 2021 report from the Halifax regional municipality’s Auditor-General that said three now-evacuated subdivisions, including Westwood Hills in Upper Tantallon where multiple homes have been destroyed, had inadequate provisions for fire safety. The city’s Auditor-General released a report in September, 2021, that said Halifax fire was not effectively overseeing and managing its fire-inspection program.
Dustin O’Leary, president of the Westwood Hills Residents Association, said he is devastated for the several neighbours and friends who lost homes in the close-knit subdivision of 750 families. He said it was known that the area was “built without appropriate fire-safety specifications” as described in the report, and that the community had come up with its own wildfire evacuation plan to address the issue in 2018.
“There’s always more that can be done and probably could’ve been done,” Mr. O’Leary said. “This is unfortunately a really horrible example of what could happen and I hope they go back and look at what could’ve been done better and do it for the future.”
While he counts himself lucky that he and his wife, two school-age children and their dog got out safe, and their home appears to be intact, Mr. O’Leary worries that anything could change. “Until everybody is able to give the all clear, you’re still sitting on pins and needles waiting to hear.”
In Ottawa, the Prime Minister expressed his “shock and awe and empathy” for those across the country who are having to deal with wildfires, and he made a point of mentioning Atlantic Canada.
“We know people are extremely distressed by what’s going on. As a federal government, we will be there to offer support.”
With reports from The Canadian Press
A wildfire burning in Nova Scotia is visible from a passenger plane flying overhead.
The Associated Press