A resident of southwestern Nova Scotia says it was “surreal” to see the sky disappear behind a haze of smoke this week due to a large wildfire that continues to burn in Yarmouth County.
The fire in the area of South Horseshoe Lake is now estimated to cover 3,100 hectares — or about 31 square kilometres, larger than the area of the Halifax peninsula.
It’s the biggest forest fire the province has seen in decades.
When crews first responded to the fire late Monday afternoon, it was estimated to be just 50 hectares. It spread very quickly over the next couple of days due to dry and windy weather.
Lucas Bourque, a hobbyist photographer from the community of Sluice Point in Argyle, about 40 kilometres southwest of South Horseshoe Lake, said he was with his father around 4 p.m. Monday when they noticed “a strange haze in the sky.”
“We noticed a big plume of smoke, and it came up very quickly,” he said.
It was the beginning of what would turn out to be a smoky couple of days for the area.
On Tuesday, Bourque took a drive around the area, tweeting out images and videos of the apocalyptic-looking scenes.
“It was just a very thick smoke haze, and there were little bits of ash falling down,” he said.
“It’s very surreal. I never would have imagined it happening, especially after such a wet spring.”
Bourque said it was shocking to see the scene so close to home. He said it reminded him of when he visited family in Edmonton in the summer of 2018, when smoke from wildfires cast a similar orange haze over the city.
“I don’t even know how to describe it. It reminds me of the forest fires out west when I was there in 2018,” he said.
“That’s the first thing I thought of. There were days where it was very smoky and there were other days where it wasn’t as smoky, and it reminded me very much so of that.”
There was much less smoke on Wednesday, and as of Thursday morning, Bourque said there was a bit of haze from where he was in Sluice Point, but that was likely due to mist.
He said he was grateful for the efforts of the firefighters and added that his workplace, the Pita Pit in Yarmouth, discounted pitas for DNR and donated chips and cookies for the firefighters Thursday afternoon.
“It’s kind of like a thank you to them for doing all that hard work, especially in such a remote area,” he said. “We’ve never seen anything like this around here.”
Fire 60 per cent contained
A team of 40 firefighters has been mobilized to work on the fire, in addition to two DNR helicopters and a water bomber from Newfoundland and Labrador.
Scott Tingley, the manager of forest protection with DNR, said Thursday afternoon that while the fire is still estimated at 3,100 hectares, it is now considered 60 per cent contained.
“Crews are focused on a couple hot spots that are kind of burning a little deep on the perimeter and that’s where they’re targeting with the helicopter and the water bomber and the crews today,” he said.
He said the fire hasn’t seen any significant growth since Tuesday. Wednesday’s cooler conditions worked to the firefighters’ advantage, he said — but crews will be challenged in the days ahead.
Tingley said their main concern now is new fires, as there are currently eight active wildfires across the province.
“With these conditions and with a lot of resources being committed to a large fire, new starts are a concern, so we’re just asking everyone to be really careful,” he said.
Earlier in the day, DNR wildfire prevention officer Kara McCurdy said there continues to be no risk to the nearby community of Quinan, and that the fire is still more than five kilometres from any structures or homes.
McCurdy said that since there was no lightning in the area recently, the cause of the fire is likely human.
She said she is investigating what sparked the blaze, though she said it might be difficult to pinpoint where the fire began, as the flames may have destroyed evidence.
“Initially, we’re just going to go in where we think that the origin started, and kind of look around that area to see if we can determine anything,” she said.
An air quality statement issued earlier in the day for the counties of Yarmouth, Digby and Shelburne has now been lifted.