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The collapsed bridge between Clyde River and Port Clyde smoulders in Nova Scotia.Communications Nova Scotia

The largest wildfire in Nova Scotia’s recorded history was still growing Thursday, as firefighters say they’re overwhelmed, Ottawa pledged more military support for the province, and a Halifax landmark was gutted in a separate blaze during another day of extremely hot, dry weather.

This week, four out-of-control wildfires west of Halifax and in the southwestern part of the province have forced the evacuation of at least 21,000 people and burned 200 homes.

The biggest fire, near Barrington Lake in Shelburne County, grew to more than 200 square kilometres, provincial officials say, despite a constant attack of water and fire retardant from water bombers and air tankers.

Bill Blair, federal Minister of Emergency Preparedness, promised extensive support to Nova Scotia Thursday, saying that the Canadian Armed Forces will provide co-ordination, fire equipment and firefighters to assist with the unprecedented wildfires in the province and relieve those who have been battling the blazes around the clock.

“We’re moving as quickly as possible,” said Mr. Blair at a press conference with other federal officials Thursday morning in Ottawa. “I’m hoping the people of Nova Scotia should see Canadian Armed Forces members providing assistance and support hopefully before the end of today.”

The federal government announced Thursday that more than 300 firefighters from the United States and South Africa are heading to Canada to battle an unprecedented wildfire season. At least 100 U.S. firefighters were expected to arrive in Nova Scotia over the weekend. And another 200 firefighters from South Africa will likely end up in Alberta, fighting fires in that province.

“This is a particularly challenging time,” said Mr. Blair referring to wildfires raging across the country in Alberta, Northwest Territories, Nova Scotia and New Brunswick. “There are a limited number of resources.”

Nova Scotia pleads for more help to battle wildfires as gusting winds, dry weather worsen

An incident commander for volunteer fire departments fighting that massive fire said he and about 70 other volunteer firefighters, half of whom are over the age of 50, desperately need more support from the province on the ground.

“Really, we have no help, it’s just the volunteer fire department tackling this thing,” said Eric Jeffrey, a 30-year-old lobster fisherman and volunteer firefighter with the Gunning Cove Fire Department. Fire departments from Mahone Bay, Lunenburg and Greenfield, using wildland firefighters, are helping out, he said, but the area needs more support from the provincial Department of Natural Resources. “They’re just leaving it all up to us.”

Provincial Natural Resources Minister Tory Rushton said he’s anticipating six more water bombers arriving from Colorado in the next few days, and said more firefighters from the U.S. and Costa Rica were on their way. The Nova Scotia government said in a press release that 35 provincial firefighters are fighting the Barrington Lake fire, while 23 are battling a much smaller blaze in the Shelburne area.

“We are trying to get it into a safe condition where firefighters with boots on the ground can actually get in and attack hot spots. But right now this is a very active fire that is on there. We cannot risk putting firefighters at the front of this fire,” he said.

Mr. Jeffery said the volunteers are trying to save homes but the wildfire, which is burning on both sides of the roads in the area, is a losing battle. “This is surreal. It’s like a nightmare that you can’t wake up from,” he said, adding that he has only slept six hours over the past three days of the intense wildfire.

The other major fire that remains out of control is in the suburban Westwood Hills subdivision in the Tantallon area of Halifax, where fire officials announced Thursday morning that 50 per cent of the fire had been contained and had not grown since Wednesday.

However, more blazes continued to ignite all over the Halifax regional municipality Thursday afternoon. A fire destroyed the historic Waegwoltic Club sending plumes of thick black smoke into the well-heeled treed neighbourhood.

Initially, firefighters tried to save the Waeg, but flames quickly engulfed the 162-year-old building overlooking the city’s Northwest Arm. Only photos and some historically significant artifacts were salvaged, said Halifax Regional Fire deputy chief Dave Meldrum.

Residents who live near the private club stood on the street in shock, covering their mouths from the smoke and then rushing off to gather passports, medication and pets, in case of an evacuation.

Nearby resident Chris Crowell ran over when he saw the smoke to see if anyone needed help evacuating the children who are attending day camps there while some school staff are on strike. He said a police officer told him everyone was safe.

“We’re packing some bags out of caution,” said Mr. Crowell, as smoke made it difficult to breathe. “Resources are spread really thin right now and conditions are dry,” he added.

Firefighters also battled another wildfire near St. Margaret’s Bay, Mr. Meldrum said. “We’re stretched. We’re not broken but we’re stretched this afternoon for sure,” he said.

Nova Scotia Premier Tim Houston said he’s hopeful that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau will clear any bureaucratic hurdles, which got in the way of timelier military support in the province after post-tropical storm Fiona last fall. “With that experience in mind, I’m not willing to leave any room for a repeat when people’s houses were literally burning,” he said. “It’s time for action right now.”

With a report from The Canadian Press

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