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Man pleads not guilty to charges related to largest wildfire in N.S. history

Click to play video: 'Man pleads not guilty to charges related to largest wildfire in N.S. history'
Man pleads not guilty to charges related to largest wildfire in N.S. history
A Nova Scotia man charged following an investigation into the Barrington lake wildfire in Shelburne County last spring pleaded not guilty. Megan King reports on the reaction, as the community’s fire services prepares for this year’s wildfire season – Mar 20, 2024

A Nova Scotia man has pleaded not guilty to three provincial offences in relation to the Barrington Lake wildfire last spring.

The wildfire was the largest in the province’s history, having burned through 23,379 hectares in southwestern Nova Scotia. It broke out on May 26, 2023, and was declared under control on June 13, before being extinguished on July 26.

The fire forced more than 6,000 people from their homes and destroyed 60 houses and cottages.

In January, the Department of Natural Resources and Renewables said 22-year-old Dalton Clark Stewart of Villagedale was charged under the provincial Forests Act.

He is accused of lighting a fire on privately owned land without the permission of the owner or occupier, failing to take reasonable efforts to prevent the spread of a fire, and leaving a fire unattended.

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A Nova Scotia man has pleaded not guilty to several charges in relation to the Barrington Lake wildfire last spring. Megan King/Global News

Stewart’s lawyer appeared via video call Wednesday at the Shelburne Provincial Court to enter Stewart’s plea of not guilty to all three charges.

A hearing will take place June 5 to set a trial date.

The Department of Natural Resources and Renewables has previously said that people convicted of violations under the provincial Forests Act can be fined up to $50,000 and/or face up to six months in prison.

Click to play video: 'Calls for transparency in Nova Scotia wildfire probe amid ‘rumours and heresay’'
Calls for transparency in Nova Scotia wildfire probe amid ‘rumours and heresay’

Residents, firefighters prepare for upcoming wildfire season

For those who lived in Shelburne County during the Barrington Lake wildfire, the memories are still strong.

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Craig Carmichael was evacuated from his home for two weeks, and recalls returning home to find the damage in his community.

“Just coming home that first drive home, driving down the one road … we live 1.2 km off Beach Road and that road was just black,” he said.

“Just seeing the damage that was done, living in complete wonderment for two weeks about whether we’re going to have a house or not. And there was so many people affected by it.”

The local fire department is now readying themselves — as we head into spring — for this year’s wildfire season.

“As a municipality, we’re doing more training with staff in the incident command system to be more prepared,” said Dwayne Hunt with the Barrington Fire Services and coordinator with EMO.

“Generally, the municipal fire departments are always well prepared. They have updated some personal protective clothing specifically for wildland firefighting, as opposed to the normal structural gear they wear.”

He adds crews will be part of upcoming wildland firefighting training in April. There are also two new trucks being outfitted to carry forest firefighting equipment and personnel into more remote areas.

Hunt says in response to last year’s fire, there has been a growing number of new recruits. Twenty-five volunteers have been added to the 130-person force.

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“Usually when you have a major event, and this one for sure was a major event, you have an influx of people that want to help,” he said.

He’s encouraging area residents to check the Burn Safe Map daily, as the province enters the warmer months.

— with files from Global News’ Alex Cooke and Megan King 

Click to play video: 'Shelburne County wildfire remains out of control'
Shelburne County wildfire remains out of control

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