As wildfires swept across western Canada on Tuesday, a wildfire at the opposite end of the country in Halifax, Nova Scotia forced the evacuation of more than 16,000 people, compounding national anxiety over out-of-control wildfires waiting for life of people.
Video footage of downtown Halifax late Sunday evening showed a thick plume of smoke enveloping the city, the sun an apocalyptic red, as a wildfire northwest of the city raged, spreading the smoke. The fire broke out in an area about 15 miles from Halifax that is home to many professionals and suburban families.
Fires have broken out across western Canada, including British Columbia, and hardest hit was Alberta, an oil and gas producing province sometimes referred to as “the Texas of North”. Earlier this month, the province declared a state of emergency.
Climate research suggests that heat and drought associated with global warming are the main reasons for bigger and stronger fires.
In Nova Scotia, there have been 195 fires so far this year compared to 153 in all of 2022. But officials said the fires have intensified this year.
Fires on both Canadian coasts introduced a feeling of foreboding. The fear and discomfort have subsided Halifaxa normally serene maritime city on Canada’s Atlantic coast, founded in 1749 and served as a British naval and military base.
City authorities declared a state of emergency, and provincial government officials on Monday said some 200 buildings and structures were damaged in the fire. Authorities said on Tuesday that no deaths, injuries or missing persons had been reported so far.
Heidi MacInnes, owner of Restless Pines Farm and a resident of Hammonds Plains in the area affected by the fire, said it was heartbreaking to evacuate her home with her partner, her 22-year-old daughter and 57 horses.
“There were hot embers falling in my driveway,” she said. “There’s no time to talk to anyone about anything, it’s just action.” She said she was afraid of losing her house.
Ms MacInnes has launched a social media appeal for help transporting the horses and has been heartened by all the offers of buckets of hay, water and horse trailers, along with rotisserie chicken to help feed the people who helped her.
“I guess the biggest thing to take away from that is the value of people helping each other out in times like this,” she said.
On Tuesday, the provincial government of Nova Scotia Department of Natural Resources and Renewable Energy it said the fire affected about 788 hectares, or about 1,950 acres, and remained “out of control”.
“This is a fast-moving fire,” the department said in a statement. “People are advised to stay away from the area.” Provincial officials warned that conditions were dangerous even for firefighters due to high winds.
An investigation into the cause of the fire is underway. But Scott Tingley, director of forest protection for the Department of Natural Resources and Renewable Energy in Nova Scotia, told a news conference Monday that authorities suspected the recent fires were “man-made.”
More than 200 firefighters were mobilized to fight the blaze, and members of Canada’s Department of National Defense were also sent to the scene.
The fire is also affecting daily life. More than a dozen schools have been closed, while bonfires have been banned.
Canadian health officials have warned that smoking can cause symptoms including sore and watery eyes, cough, dizziness, chest pains and heart palpitations.
In Alberta, as of May 19, an estimated 29,000 people have been displaced from their homes by recent wildfires, though most have returned to their homes in recent days as the fires have diminished in scope and scale.
The fires in Alberta brought back bad memories of 2016, when a raging fire destroyed 2,400 buildings in Fort McMurray, the heart of Canada’s tar sands region with the third largest oil reserves in the world.
In 2021, British Columbia was the site of one of Canada’s worst bushfires in decades, as blazes decimated the small community of Lytton after temperatures reached a record 49.6 degrees Celsius, or 121, 3 Fahrenheit.