‘Rolling like a freight train:’ How province’s other major wildfire keeps getting bigger

Click to play video: 'Nova Scotia wildfires: Barrington Lake fire ‘rolling like a freight train,’ official says'
Nova Scotia wildfires: Barrington Lake fire ‘rolling like a freight train,’ official says
Dave Rockwood, public information officer for the Department of Natural Resources and Renewables, said Wednesday that the Barrington Lake fire was “rolling like a freight train” and that 200 to 300 foot flames have been recorded on the head fire. He said officials have spent multiple days “constantly trying to chase this fire and steering our people out of the way and getting the public out of the way.” – May 31, 2023

As more than 16,400 residents have evacuated their homes due to an 867-hectare wildfire in the Halifax area, an even larger fire is continuing to rage on in southwestern Nova Scotia.

The fire occupying an enormous wooded region in Shelburne County isn’t just slightly larger; on Wednesday, it was reported at 17,602 hectares, making one of the largest wildfires in Nova Scotia history.

On Wednesday evening, additional mandatory evacuations were ordered for the area.

An emergency alert issued by the province at around 6:15 p.m. said the fire was travelling from the Municipality of Barrington in a northeast direction, and had crossed into the Municipality of Shelburne.

Some civic addresses are under a mandatory evacuation. Shelburne County East Emergency Management also posted some addresses that are “recommended” for evacuation. Both Facebook posts are as follows:

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The blaze, reported on Saturday, is believed to have started near Barrington Lake and has since spread throughout the Shelburne County area.

David Rockwood, public information officer for Shelburne, said the fire is still out-of-control and noted a substantial increase in the number of homes lost.

“We are confident that we’ve lost about 50 residences in the area,” he said during Wednesday’s provincial update on the fires.

“We’re concerned about it, it’s still very active, it’s very fast-moving. We’re at those crucial hours of the day right now, wind is up, temperature is up, and the relative humidity is down, and this is where the fire can definitely take off on us,” said Rockwood, referring to the persistent dry, warm weather in the province.

“This thing has been getting up and rolling like a freight train.”

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In the same press conference, Nova Scotia Premier Tim Houston confirmed that eight water bombers have arrived from New Brunswick and are currently fighting the blaze in the Shelburne area.

“The Shelburne fire is a breathtaking fire for sure,” he said.

“Unprecedented resources are being used because these fires are unprecedented but the effort going into the response is significant,” said Houston as he reiterated measures taken by the province to reduce the potential of additional wildfires, such as the current ban on all travel into wooded areas and a province-wide burn ban.

In addition, Houston thanked the federal government for supplying coast guard support to Shelburne.

“The Prime Minister has told me time and time again that he will be there, the federal government will be there for Nova Scotians; we need them to be there for Nova Scotians, we have made the ask,” he said, adding that the province has applied for support under the disaster financial assistance program.

Nolan Young, MLA for Shelburne, referred to the wildfire as being “unlike anything I’ve ever seen” during an interview with Global News on Wednesday morning.

“There have been some houses that have been lost due to the conditions and the smoke and the intensity of this fire, at one point there were 300-foot flames in the air.”

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“We’re not turning things away at this point,” he said while expressing gratitude for firefighters and other front-line workers, acknowledging that all the responding firefighters stepping forward from the Shelburne County area are volunteers.

“We’re trying to secure some more water bombers to come to the area … we need more air support … I know we have some more volunteers that’ll be coming from across the province, we’re working with other provinces, we’re working with the federal government to secure as much support as we can,” said Young.

In addition to the eight airplanes from New Brunswick, the province announced on Wednesday afternoon that there are currently two water bombers from Newfoundland and one helicopter on the scene to fight the fire.

Seventy DNRR firefighters, 40 volunteer firefighters and four helicopters remain on the scene while battling the blaze.

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As of Wednesday afternoon, 2,350 homes and 5,000 people have been evacuated in response to the ongoing fire, with all schools in Shelburne County being closed on Wednesday.

Despite being tasked with one of the biggest challenges in the area’s history, Young said the community has been great in standing together and supporting each other.

“People really pull together, we have warming centers set up, we have shelters set up, we have people staying with friends and family … people set up in campers with all kinds of food, so they’re well supported when they get out,” he said.

According to Young, 66 elderly residents and care staff from the Roseway Manor, a non-profit nursing home, were evacuated due to the building’s proximity to the fire and have since been provided shelter at Acadia University in Wolfville, N.S.

On Monday morning, the Municipality of the District of Shelburne declared a local state emergency that will remain in effect for the next seven days.

The Canadian Red Cross has since set up shelter centers for evacuees at the Sandy Wickens Memorial Arena in Shelburne and at the Barrington Municipal Arena in Barrington.

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