For the third day, crews continue to battle a large, out-of-control forest fire in southwestern Nova Scotia, which is now believed to be triple the size of what was estimated earlier in the day.
As of 3 p.m. Wednesday afternoon, the fire in the area of South Horseshoe Lake in Yarmouth County was estimated to be about 3,100 hectares in size, equal to about 31 square kilometres.
Wednesday morning, it was estimated to be 1,000 hectares. When crews first responded to the fire late Monday afternoon, the fire was estimated to be just 50 hectares.
Kara McCurdy, the wildfire prevention officer for the Department of Natural Resources and Renewables, said estimates are bound to change as things like smoke and tree cover can affect visibility for the crews.
“It really hasn’t probably grown that much from yesterday, it’s just that crews have got a better visual of the fire today because of the lack of the smoke,” she explained.
“So now they have a better chance to get a better perimeter of it.”
It’s the largest fire in Nova Scotia in recent memory. McCurdy said the last one of this scale she recalls was in Porters Lake in 2008, which was around 1,900 hectares — though that fire was significantly closer to homes and businesses.
She said late Wednesday afternoon there were two DNR helicopters as well as a water bomber from Newfoundland and Labrador at the scene, in addition to a 40-person crew mobilized from across the province to help with the firefighting efforts.
“Because of the size and complexity of the fire, we’ve also brought in our incident management team to help co-ordinate logistics, resources, planning and things like that,” McCurdy said.
She estimated the fire is “certainly not higher” than 10 per cent contained.
McCurdy said the fire’s growth was due to dry and windy weather conditions. This is also the time of year known as the “spring dip” — when trees are putting all of their energy into new growth, which can make forests “really dry.”
Since Tuesday, winds have slowed down and the humidity level is a bit higher. But with temperatures expected to rise into the mid-20s Thursday, McCurdy is concerned about the impact that could have.
“We’re not looking at any kind of rain forecasted until Sunday, and every time we look at the forecast it changes, so we’re kind of monitoring that stuff,” she said.
She said it’s a good idea for people in the area to prepare a 72-hour emergency preparedness kit in case they need to evacuate. Preparedness information from the Emergency Management Office is available through the Nova Scotia website.
McCurdy said crews could be at the scene for a long time. While the initial fire can often be under control in a couple of days, she said it takes much longer to do “mop up” work — making sure all the hot spots are extinguished.
“We could be looking at a week, we could be looking at a month, depending on the conditions,” she said.
The fire is in a “boggy” area with a lot of sparse spruce trees. It’s a remote area not accessible by vehicle, but there are ATV trails.
Since there was no lightning in the area recently, McCurdy said the fire was likely caused by people. She said Wednesday that they will investigate further to determine what the exact cause was — though given the fire’s remote location, it could be difficult.
McCurdy said the vast majority of fires — 98 per cent — are caused by human activity, which includes things like residential burning, grass and debris burning, improper placement of campfires, and failing to supervise fires or put them out properly.
She said people should check the province’s burn restrictions before lighting a fire. Burning before 2 p.m. is banned altogether, and the province’s BurnSafe website is updated each day at 2 p.m. to say if and where burning is restricted.
On Wednesday, burning is not allowed in Queens, Shelburne or Yarmouth Counties, and burning is restricted until 7 p.m. in all other counties.
Air quality statement
An air quality statement continues to be in effect for Yarmouth County due to “elevated pollution levels.”
“Easterly winds will continue today which will push this smoke to the west, possibly giving reduced air quality, especially where the smoke descends to ground level,” Environment Canada said in the statement.
“Individuals may experience symptoms such as increased coughing, throat irritation, headaches or shortness of breath. Children, seniors, and those with cardiovascular or lung disease, such as asthma, are especially at risk.”
Environment Canada is advising those with breathing difficulties to stay inside.
“Find an indoor place that’s cool and ventilated. Using an air conditioner that cools and filters air may help,” it said.
“If you open the windows you may let in more polluted air. If your home isn’t air-conditioned, consider going to a public place (library, shopping mall, recreation centre) that is air-conditioned.”