'For God's sake, stop burning': N.S. premier bans all activity in forests, urges residents to abide by burn ban
Nova Scotia Premier Tim Houston has banned all activity in forests as of Tuesday, and says the wildfire damage is “extensive” and “heartbreaking.”
Tuesday afternoon Houston joined a news conference virtually from Shelburne County, where wildfires have reached more than 10,300 hectares in size.
“Today in Shelburne County at the command centre, there’s a great deal of concern over this fire. This fire continues to grow,” Houston said.
Near Halifax, approximately 200 homes or structures have been damaged by the wildfire that began burning Sunday in the Upper Tantallon, N.S., area, according to preliminary estimates.
Due to the ongoing firefighting efforts, Houston said all activity in the province’s woods are prohibited. This applies to hiking, camping, fishing, use of off-highway vehicles, forestry, hunting and more.
The premier also pleaded with Nova Scotians not to disobey the provincial burn ban. Houston said there were six illegal burns reported Monday evening.
“This is absolutely ridiculous with what’s happening in this province… It’s mind boggling,” Houston said.
“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.
The cause of the ongoing fires remain under investigation, Scott Tingley, manager of forest protection with the Department of Natural Resources and Renewables, said.
“It’s safe to say that it’s very likely human-caused for all these fires, therefore much of it is probably preventable,” Tingley said during Tuesday’s news conference.
As of Tuesday afternoon, wildfires in Nova Scotia cover 13,000 hectares of land, Tingley said.
“But we expect that to be increased by the end of today,” he said.
Tingley said there are 13 active wildfires, eight of which started Monday. Fires in the Tantallon area, Shelburne County and in Pubnico remain out of control.
The largest, in Shelburne County, has surpassed 10,000 hectares in size and is presenting a “very challenging situation” for firefighters.
“We have very, very hot, dry weather again. We have a large out of control fire. It’s an evolving situation. Crews are being challenged by the fire behaviour once again today,” Tingley said, adding that communities and homes remain at risk.
“Crews are working very, very hard to prioritize resources and try to minimize those impacts,” he said.
A new wildfire that started in the Pubnico area of Yarmouth County is measured at 46 hectares — though it is expected to grow.
The Tantallon area fire remains out of control, but it has not grown since Monday morning and remains at 788 hectares.
“These fires are beyond our resource capacity,” Tingley said, adding that’s why Nova Scotia continues to request assistance and resources from other provinces.
“We are being challenged. People are working extremely hard, putting in long hours.”
Halifax deputy fire chief David Meldrum said firefighters will continue to work through the night Tuesday monitoring for fire extension and putting out spot fires that may ignite.
“We will remain here patrolling communities throughout the night… we’re staying here,” Meldrum said during a news conference Tuesday evening.
David Steeves, a forest resources technician with the Nova Scotia Department of Natural Resources and Renewables, said there remains a high risk of fire spread due to dry, hot and windy conditions.
“The weather is not helping us at all,” he said Tuesday evening.
“I am praying for any type of precipitation at this point.”
The full extent of damage to homes and communities across Nova Scotia remains unclear. Halifax’s executive director of public safety said the fires damaged more than 200 structures in the municipality, 151 of which are homes.
Houston, when asked about how the province will support those who need to rebuild, noted “we have a housing crisis in the province. There's no question about that.”
“Right now we have to get through these fires. We’ll try to keep people safe and comfortable and looked after while we get through the evacuation period,” the premier said.
Steeves said firefighters and crew on the ground are working long hours and are doing everything they can to protect homes wherever possible.
“These folks are invested in what they’re doing out there. They’re working not only to put a fire out, but to save a community,” Steeves said.
Thousands of Nova Scotians are currently under evacuation orders. Meldrum said evacuated residents will be allowed to return home “as soon as it is safe to do so.”
AIR QUALITY WARNING
Bob Robichaud, meteorologist with Environment and Climate Change Canada, warned Nova Scotians to be aware of poor air quality due to the fires.
“You’re probably going to see air quality issues get worse overnight and in the early morning hours over the next few days as we have clear skies at night,” Robichaud said Tuesday.
“That tends to be a very good condition for the smoke to remain close to the ground.”
Robichaud said he recommends that Nova Scotians limit their time outdoors if possible and keep windows closed in areas where air quality is poor.
Under the new restrictions on activity in the woods Nova Scotians can access beaches, provincial and municipal parks, but trail systems are off limits and camping is allowed only in campgrounds. The restrictions apply to crown and private land. Private landowners are free to use their own properties, but cannot host others in the wooded areas of their property.
Forestry, mining and any commercial activity on crown land is also restricted. Forestry companies working on crown land can only work between 8 p.m. and 10 a.m.
These restrictions are in place until at least June 25.
For more Nova Scotia news, visit our dedicated provincial page.
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