The Canadian military is being brought in to Nova Scotia to help the province deal with its largest wildfire in history. As of June 1, there are 16 active wildfires burning, with officials reporting that 200 structures have been destroyed, including 151 houses.
Bill Blair, minister of emergency preparedness, said at a news conference in Ottawa on June 1 that Nova Scotia had asked the federal government for assistance and the federal government approved the request on May 31.
Jonathan Wilkinson, federal minister of natural resources said help would be coming, “hopefully” before the end of the day.
Canadian Armed Forces will work with provincial emergency management officials to provide planning and coordination supports, ignition specialist personnel and equipment, and other firefighting resources, to help with fire turnover, mop up, and hotspot dousing.
“These additional firefighting resources will be used to relieve firefighters who’ve been working tirelessly around the clock to protect communities right across Nova Scotia,” said Blair.
The minister listed a number of additional federal resources that have been provided to the province. He said the Canadian Coast Guard has provided air lifts, helicopter surveillance, crew comfort trailers, and an incident command post.
“The Canadian Armed Forces has provided specialized fire fighting trucks and support equipment to Halifax,” Blair said. He added that Transport Canada was providing a national aerial surveillance program and the Public Health Agency of Canada has been providing beds, blankets, and cots from the National Emergency strategic stockpile.
The military firefighting efforts will be in addition to assistance already being provided to the province by the Canadian Coast Guard, Public Health Agency of Canada, and other federal departments, in response to the needs Nova Scotia has identified, said Blair.
“We are also assessing what additional resources can be made available through other federal departments and agencies. We will continue to be there for Nova Scotians,” he added.
On May 31, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said he had been in contact with Nova Scotia’s premier and “told them that we stand ready to provide any assistance they need. We’re also going to match donations made to Red Cross Canada for Nova Scotia.”
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. (Darren Calabrese/The Canadian Press)
In a May 31 letter, Nova Scotia Premier Tim Houston said the province needed more water bombers and helicopters and had formally requested 5,000 hoses, firefighting foam, four-wheel-drive trucks, and federal help to set up a base camp for 250 firefighters actively fighting the blaze.
The province also asked for federal disaster financial assistance, which is usually not granted until the province spends over $3 million on disaster relief.
“The asks are known at the highest levels of government and nobody can say that they are not known. So I would urge them to act on those,” said Houston.
There are more than 300 firefighters now travelling to Canada from South Africa and the United States to help battle wildfires. Approximately 100 U.S. firefighters are expected to be in Nova Scotia by June 5, and 200 from South Africa are expected to aid firefighting suppression efforts in Alberta.
Ontario’s Natural Resources Minister Tory Rushton said six water bombers would be flying in from Colorado on June 2 and over the weekend. He said the province expects fire crews from Costa Rica to arrive next week.
There are hundreds of fire crews currently in Canada from other countries, including the U.S., Australia, and New Zealand, in what officials have said is an “unprecedented” early fire season.
Across the country, according to Blair, there have been 1,826 fires since the start of the season, burning roughly 2.7 million hectares.
“The Northwest Territories, Manitoba, Ontario, and most recently Nova Scotia and New Brunswick have all experienced serious wildfires that have prompted the evacuation of tens of thousands of Canadians, including from many indigenous communities,” Blair said.
“To put that in some context, that’s over five million football fields. And the national average for hectares burned in the month of May over the last 10 years has averaged approximate 150,000 hectares,” he noted.
Blair said there are currently 211 wildfires still burning across the country, with at least 82 burning out of control. “These conditions this early in the season are unprecedented,” he said.
An aerial image showing the magnitude of the fire burning in Shelburne County, N.S. is shown in a handout photo May 31, 2023. (The Canadian Press/HO-Communications Nova Scotia)
The government reports that there are out-of-control fires burning in the Halifax region and Shelburne, Yarmouth Counties, with a total of 16 active wildfires in the province as of 12 p.m. local time.
Temperatures are expected to reach 32 degrees C on June 1, and fire crews have reported flames that reach 300 feet, according to local reports.
“Today’s weather is not going to be a friend of the firefighters,” Rushton told the CBC’s Information Morning Nova Scotia on June 1.
Halifax Mayor Mike Savage also requested specific help on May 31. Savage said at a news conference that the city needed portable water trailers, brush trucks, and structural protection units, plus other firefighting gear, according to CTV news on May 31.
The Department of Natural Resources and Renewables (DNRR) said on June 1 that there are three helicopters and one water bomber from Newfoundland and Labrador fighting the fires. “Containment efforts include dozer breaks, natural breaks, and nearby highways. The fire still poses a number of areas of concern, keeping the status out of control,” said the province in a June 1 news release.
Poor Air Quality
Air quality is also an issue in the province with Environment Canada advisories affecting Shelburne County, the scene of the largest wildfire burning, which is near Barrington Lake in the southwest corner of the province. As of May 31 in the evening, that fire was burning about 830 hectares in size, and had destroyed more than 150 homes and led to evacuation orders affecting 160,000 residents.
Halifax Fire deputy chief David Meldrum said at a May 31 news conference that 100 firefighters were working on hotspots and flareups, and additional fire crews had come from Charlottetown.
Officials are predicting it will be a long process to get the fires under control, due to a weather forecast of low humidity and very hot, dry conditions.
Thick plumes of heavy smoke fill the Halifax sky as an out-of-control fire in a suburban community quickly spread, engulfing multiple homes and forcing the evacuation of local residents in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada, on May 28, 2023. (Kelly Clark/The Canadian Press via AP)
Officials say a new fire started burning out of control on May 31 in the District of Shelburne, at an estimated size of over eight square kilometres.
Environment Canada said air quality was poor just outside of Halifax in Upper Tantallon and Hammonds Plains, due to an out-of-control wildfire at Barrington Lake, Shelburne County covering 18,173 hectares, which is approximately 181.7 square kilometres.