Rainy forecast could offer some relief for crews battling N.S. wildfires

Click to play video: 'Nova Scotia wildfires: Officials urge people to stay out of wildfire evacuation zones'
Nova Scotia wildfires: Officials urge people to stay out of wildfire evacuation zones
During an update on the wildfire situation in Nova Scotia Friday, Dave Rockwood, a public information officer in Shelbourne, N.S., urged people to stay out of the evacuation zone, adding that showing up in these areas can prevent firefighters from carrying out their important work. “It’s very frustrating for our ground crews that are already stressed and pushed,” he said – Jun 2, 2023

Crews battling ongoing wildfires in Nova Scotia — including the largest wildfire ever recorded in provincial history — could get some relief over the weekend, with rain finally forecasted to move into the province.

It’s welcome news for those on the front lines fighting two major wildfires in Tantallon and Shelburne County during a hot, dry season.

“Weather has favoured the fire all week, not the firefighters,” Nova Scotia Premier Tim Houston told reporters during a news conference Friday afternoon.

“We’re hopeful that this will soon change.”

Click to play video: '‘Our fingers are crossed’: Nova Scotians hope troops, rain help wildfire fight'
‘Our fingers are crossed’: Nova Scotians hope troops, rain help wildfire fight

While no deaths or injuries have been reported due to the fires, there was a “breathtaking amount of damage and many, many lives turned upside down,” said Houston.

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He announced that starting Monday, small businesses in evacuation zones can apply for a one-time grant of up to $2,500 to help offset closures.

The province had previously announced that households that had to be evacuated could apply for a one-time, $500 payment being distributed by the Canadian Red Cross. As of Friday, those funds had been distributed to 3,400 households.

Click to play video: 'Nova Scotia wildfires: Premier announces grant of up to $2500 for small businesses'
Nova Scotia wildfires: Premier announces grant of up to $2500 for small businesses

Rain finally coming

Environment Canada is forecasting rain beginning Friday night, with showers continuing over the next several days.

“I’m happy to report that, yes, we are getting rain, and lots of it,” Environment Canada warning preparedness meteorologist Bob Robichaud said during the conference.

He said cooler temperatures are expected to move into the province Friday night, with rain continuing into Saturday in many areas, extending into the next week.

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Three firefighters with Halifax Regional Fire and Emergency work to put out fires in the Tantallon area. Communications Nova Scotia

Southwestern Nova Scotia — where a fire in Shelburne County has burned through more than 20,000 hectares, destroyed at least 50 homes or cottages and forced more than half of the county’s residents to evacuate — will get the most rain between now and Tuesday, he said.

“Hopefully it comes quickly,” said Robichaud.

Despite the good news on the weather front, many challenges still remain. David Rockwood, Department of Natural Resources and Renewables spokesperson for Shelburne, said the fire there — the largest recorded in provincial history — continues to grow.

Firefighting efforts have been hampered by weather and wind shifts. One firefighting helicopter is down due to mechanical issues, and New Brunswick has recalled eight water bombers that were sent to the region earlier in the week.

Rockwood said people who are violating the mandatory evacuation order — returning to the area to see the damage and take pictures — are also interfering with the efforts.

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An aerial image showing the magnitude of the fire burning in Shelburne County, N.S. is shown in a Wednesday, May 31, 2023 handout photo. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO-Communications Nova Scotia

“We need people to stay out of our area. If you have no business, you haven’t been granted access … you need to stay out,” he said sternly.

When people are in the area, air units are unable to drop water below due to safety risks, he said.

“I’m going to be straightforward. We have lost structures because of a number of these instances where we’ve had to stop our aircraft from dropping,” he said.

‘Historic’ wildfire season

In the Tantallon area, about a 30-minute drive from downtown Halifax, a fire that broke out Sunday afternoon has now grown to 950 hectares, an increase of more than 100 since the previous day.

That fire has destroyed about 200 buildings, including 150 homes, and forced the evacuation of more than 16,400 people. Some of the evacuees were able to tour part of the area destroyed by the fire Friday.

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The fire remains at 50 per cent containment.

In an alert sent out late Friday afternoon, the province lifted the evacuation order for some areas in the Lucasville, St. Georges Boulevard Area, and Stillwater Lake area.

Information on the evacuation areas can be found on the Halifax website.

Click to play video: 'Forced to flee wildfire, Upper Tantallon family worries for community'
Forced to flee wildfire, Upper Tantallon family worries for community

Scott Tingley, manager of forest protection with the provincial Department of Natural Resources and Renewables, said it’s been a “historic” fire season so far.

There have been 209 wildfires this year, with a total burned area of 23,000 hectares. There are currently 14 active fires, four of which are out of control.

In addition to the major fires in Tantallon and Shelburne County, a new, smaller fire at Lake Road, also in Shelburne County, was estimated at around 114 hectares Friday.

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And another wildfire that started Monday in nearby Pubnico in Yarmouth County measures around 138 hectares, down from 163 on Friday.

While the major Shelburne County fire remains a challenge, Rockwood, with the DNRR, said he was encouraged by the shrinking Pubnico fire.

“It gave me a good feeling. It was one of those little pick-me-ups I needed.”

— with files from The Canadian Press

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