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Nova Scotia officials declare emergency over rare and ‘very aggressive’ wildfires (Guardian)

May 29, 2023

Leyland Cecco in Toronto, Mon 29 May 2023 16.53 BST

Rare and “very aggressive” spring wildfires in the Canadian province of Nova Scotia have destroyed many buildings and forced thousands from their homes and prompting officials to declare a local state of emergency.

Over the weekend, residents of the Maritime province posted video of thick smoke encroaching over Halifax as a nearby blaze rapidly swept through a suburb.

“Our firefighters worked very hard in very dangerous conditions,” the Halifax fire deputy chief, David Meldrum, told reporters over the weekend. On Monday, he said the blaze in the community of Tantallon was “ongoing and still not under control” and 14,000 people had been asked to leave their homes.

The “really hot, really fast” fire quickly morphed into a five-alarm blaze, “which is the first use of a fifth alarm that many of us can remember”, said Meldrum, adding it was unclear how many structures had been destroyed.

Late Sunday night, Halifax city declared a local state of emergency in the affected areas that was set to last for at least a week.

With no rain expected to fall in the coming days, officials are hopeful that winds will push the fire backwards, but warned there could still be “significant fire” with unburned fuels in the area igniting.

Over the weekend, another blaze near the community of Yarmouth “escaped containment”, doubling in size and growing to 6,270 hectares, buffeted by strong winds and dry conditions. Officials said two helicopters, six air tankers and heavy equipment from neighbouring New Brunswick are being used to contain the fires.

While western Canada experiences arid summers, dry forests and frequent wildfires, large and destructive blazes in Nova Scotia are relatively rare. The largest fire to ever hit the province was in 1976, when a blaze 10 miles wide destroyed nearly 13,000 hectares. In Alberta, a province far larger in size, more than 1m hectares have burned so far this year.

Meldrum said on Monday the main goal of fire crews was to preserve as many structures as possible. No injuries to been reported and the cause of the fire is still unknown.

“We have a lot of work to do today, this week, for many days,” Meldrum said. of the Halifax region fire. “This is difficult, and residents must be prepared to remain out of their homes for several days, at least.”