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N.S. premier calls for urgent, proactive firefighting help from Ottawa

Premier Tim Houston repeated his calls for urgent firefighting help Thursday, asking Ottawa to “be proactive” with aid as multiple wildfires continue to burn out of control.

The federal government said Thursday morning the Canadian Armed Forces is preparing to provide firefighting support to Nova Scotia, and Natural Resources Minister Jonathan Wilkinson said that military help would start arriving "hopefully" by the end of the day.

“I would urge urgency on their part,” Houston said of the federal government following a cabinet meeting Thursday.

“Getting these fires under control is the most urgent need.”

About 200 houses have been reported as destroyed by the wildfires and more than 21,000 Nova Scotians have been evacuated from their homes.

The premier shared Wednesday an extensive list of requests for support, that include military firefighting crew, a variety of equipment, helicopters to drop water, and 50 per cent cost-sharing for modular housing units for those who have lost their homes to the fire.

“The discussions on many of these things have been ongoing for a number of days… I would urge them to act on those, and be proactive even on what hasn’t been requested,” Houston said.The wildfire at Barrington Lake, Shelburne Co. while out of control and is estimated at the time to be around 1354 hectares. (Courtesy: DNRR)The premier said he learned a great deal about the process of requesting federal aid after post-tropical storm Fiona hit the region, and because of that experience he wrote in his formal request: “where this is an urgent and evolving situation, I would appreciate being made aware right away if any of these requests are required to go through administratively burdensome channels. I am hopeful that we can act first together to address the urgent needs of Nova Scotians.”

Houston said that following Fiona, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau “looked me in the eye at one point and said Nova Scotia didn’t fill out the proper forms and that’s why support didn’t come as quickly.”

“I, of course, disagreed with that assessment, but even if that assessment were true, there’s a time to act,” Houston said. 

Nova Scotia has already received supplies and assistance from Prince Edward Island, Newfoundland and Labrador, and New Brunswick. Houston has asked that the Coast Guard be deployed to Shelburne County, where the largest wildfire in the province continues to burn out of control.

The 20-member Department of Natural Resources and Renewables firefighting crew that was assisting with the Northwest Territories wildfires returned to the province Wednesday night and were set to begin work on the Nova Scotia wildfires Thursday. As well, 17 firefighters from New York and New Hampshire will start work in the province Saturday.

About 100 American firefighters are also set to arrive in Nova Scotia by Monday, June 5.

Nova Scotia has several ongoing, out-of-control fires Thursday as the temperature rises to between the high 20s and low 30s in much of the province.

The largest wildfire, covering about 19,000 hectares, is in Shelburne County. About 2,000 residents have been asked to evacuate due to the blaze.

A second smaller fire estimated at 120 hectares in size was also reported in Shelburne County Wednesday night, located several kilometres away from the first wildfire.Firefighters arrive at a command centre within the evacuated zone while taking a break from battling the wildfire burning in Tantallon, N.S. outside of Halifax on Wednesday, May 31, 2023. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darren Calabrese)Meanwhile in Halifax, the Tantallon-area fire is considered 50 per cent contained at 837 hectares, but the situation remains volatile due to the heat and dry weather. The nearby Hammonds Plains fire is holding at four hectares and is 80 per cent contained.

In Pubnico, Yarmouth County, an out-of-control wildfire measures 163 hectares.

Houston and fire officials are expected to provide an update on the state of the fires this afternoon at 3 p.m. 

With files from The Canadian Press.

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