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N.S. premier asks for urgent help from federal government as wildfires continue to burn out of control

Nova Scotia Premier Tim Houston is asking for urgent help as wildfires continue to burn out of control in his province.

In a news conference Wednesday, Houston said he has reached out to Ottawa and other provinces for all available assistance.

“The list of asks is significant, we know that. But we’ve made the ask,” Houston said.

“It’s time to pitch in with whatever you have… Nova Scotia needs the help right now.”

In a letter to the prime minister, Houston said nearly 20,000 people have been evacuated from their homes and tens of thousands of hectares of land is on fire.

“With only dry weather conditions in the forecast for the remainder of the week, Nova Scotia is a province in crisis,” reads the letter.

Thursday morning the federal government said that more than 300 firefighters from the United States and South Africa are heading to Canada in the coming days to help battle fires during this unprecedented wildfire season.

Officials say at least 100 U.S. firefighters will be arriving in Nova Scotia over the weekend.

Another 200 firefighters arriving from South Africa will likely end up in Alberta, though officials say the wildfire situation in the country is fluid.

Nova Scotia has already received supplies and assistance from Prince Edward Island, Newfoundland and Labrador and New Brunswick. Houston says the province has asked for the Coast Guard to be deployed to Shelburne County. Additionally, 17 firefighters from New York and New Hampshire will start work on Saturday and the 20-member Department of Natural Resources and Renewables (DNRR) firefighting crew that was assisting with the Northwest Territories wildfires will return late Wednesday night and begin work in Nova Scotia Thursday.

“The province is doing everything within its power to combat the fires and to meet the needs of our people. All emergency services are activated and being used to fight and contain the fires to the extent that is possible with human intervention,” wrote Houston.

Houston said the road to recovery will be a long one.

“As you can appreciate, we need help urgently and would most certainly appreciate coordination across federal departments. Given the scope and breadth of Nova Scotians' needs, I wanted to put all requests in writing and in one place so that they could be addressed directly by you,” reads the letter to the prime minister.

Houston has formally requested the following assistance from the federal government:

  • military firefighters when the fire reaches the sustained attack stage
  • ignition specialist personnel and ignition equipment
  • firefighting foam
  • assistance in securing a base camp that can house 250 firefighters, as well as an incident command post infrastructure to support all on the ground.
  • 5,000 lengths of 1 ½ inch 100 ft. length quick connect coupling hose
  • Nomex or equivalent wildland firefighting clothing
  • 12 4X4 trucks
  • four helicopters (intermediate or above) certified to drop water
  • 50 per cent cost share on modular housing for those who have lost homes due to the fires
  • commitment of advanced payment through the Disaster Financial Assistance Agreement administered by Public Safety Canada.
  • commitment to match any Red Cross donations
  • commitment to collaboration between the Nova Scotia Office of the Superintendent of Insurance and Federal Office of the Superintendent of Financial Intuitions to ensure any Nova Scotian impacted by the fires has timely access to decisions by their insurance company, and an expedited pathway to address situations where individuals are denied coverage
  • access to any under utilized military housing for displaced individuals while rebuilding takes place
  • a commitment of skilled trades people from military, federal agencies, and departments – via special secondments to the private sector through CANS. Additionally, a commitment under the Temporary Foreign Workers Program that the situation in Nova Scotia will be classified as a natural disaster under the Exceptional and Unforeseen Events - Provincial Agreements (R204{c} - T13) allowing employers to by-pass a Labour Market Impact Assessments if there is a provincial letter of support for certain trades (eg. constructions, trades and other labourers)
  • mobile resources to supplement and complement those already deployed
  • support for critical infrastructure for telecommunications.
  • a Temporary Leave Benefit that would provide wage replacement and/or funding to support for buying necessities such as food and clothing. The funding will be advertised through social media and disbursed through Labour, Skills and Immigration’s Nova Scotia Works Centres
  • support to restart agriculture businesses that were in evacuation areas
  • for tourism operators (and other businesses/employers impacted by the fires), ACOA could play an active role by funding and streamlining distribution of funds for the eventual rebuilding and pivoting of businesses to recover as quickly as possible

“You know your resources best and know what can help in a situation like this. Given the seriousness, any other resources at the disposal of the federal government that we haven’t mentioned but could help, please send. We ask for your common sense and support,” wrote Houston.

Earlier Wednesday, leader of the Nova Scotia Liberal Party Zach Churchill issued a statement saying “Nova Scotia has yet to make a formal request to Ottawa for additional resources.”

“The province needs to pull all available levers to ensure Nova Scotians are kept safe and we receive more help to contain this escalating situation. That must include calling on the federal government to help,” Churchill said.

During Wednesday’s news conference, Houston said it was “absolutely not true” that Nova Scotia was refusing offers of help.

“Those that spread the rumours that Nova Scotia hadn’t asked for help — these are ongoing discussions… Officials have had ongoing conversations with counterparts,” Houston said, referring to municipal, provincial and federal governments.

Houston added the rumours are “not helpful when we’re in a crisis like this.”

With files from The Canadian Press.

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