The Canadian province of Nova Scotia on Wednesday, May 31, requested the help of the military and the United States in the face of major forest fires in the east of the country, including a threat to the vicinity of the city of Halifax, causing the evacuation of thousands of residents. "We are in a crisis in the province and we want, we need and we will accept whatever support we can get," Tim Houston, premier of the Atlantic coast, said at a news conference. "These fires are unprecedented," he added.
In Ottawa, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau called the situation "heartbreaking" and pledged unwavering support, stressing that aid was on its way. Additional water hoses provided by Ontario, firefighters from U.S. states, a dozen water bombers from nearby areas and the Coast Guard have already joined efforts to extinguish the flames.
"People are tired, frustrated and scared," said Mike Savage, the mayor of the provincial capital, Halifax. More than 16,000 residents of the north-west of the city have already been evacuated. As of Wednesday, 14 wildfires were active in Nova Scotia, three of which were considered out of control. Some 200 homes and infrastructure were destroyed, but no injuries were reported. "It's my life" that went up in smoke, Terri Kottwitz told CBC in tears, referring to her home and business that were burned to the ground by the fires.
Our neighbours have farms and they barely had time to take their children and as many animals as they could before fleeing."
A resident evacuated
Janis Churchill-Moher, another resident evacuated from a village in the south of the province, said she did not know if her house was still standing. "Our neighbours have farms and they barely had time to take their children and as many animals as they could before fleeing," she said. More than 2,000 people were ordered to evacuate the south of the province earlier this week, given the spread of the fires. The dry weather and the temperature records expected in the coming days also make the authorities fear that the fight against fires will last over time.
Smoke from the fires that have ravaged the province for the past three days has even reached the Atlantic coast of the United States, causing air pollution spikes in the state of New Jersey and parts of Pennsylvania. Nova Scotia's premier announced Tuesday a ban on all activities in the province's forests, including hiking or fishing. "Stop throwing cigarette butts out your car window. Just stop. Our resources are stretched incredibly right now to fight existing fires," he said, noting that more than a dozen illegal fires had been reported this week.
Rarer but more intense fires
These fires come after numerous wildfires devastated the western Canadian province of Alberta in May, devastating nearly a million hectares and evacuating tens of thousands of residents. On Tuesday, 800 residents of Fort Chiepwyan, in the northern province of Alberta, had to be evacuated by plane as fires intensified in this isolated hamlet.
According to government statistics, the number of forest fires recorded in Canada has decreased since the 1980s, probably as a result of fire prevention policies. But recent years have been marked by more intense and devastating fires. Western Canada has been particularly hard hit in recent years by extreme weather events, the intensity and frequency of which are increased by global warming.