As dry conditions continue to fuel forest fires in different parts of Nova Scotia, provincial officials are reminding people about the importance of adhering to provincial and municipal fire restrictions.
Lands and Forestry Minister Iain Rankin and Acting Manager of Forest Protection Jim Rudderham outlined the status of three active forest fires in the province and answered questions during a media briefing on Tuesday afternoon.
Rudderham told reporters the 148 hectare wildfire near Frankville in Antigonish County is classified as out of control and about 50% contained right now. A second fire on Alton Road near Springfield in Annapolis County is also causing concern. That fire is about 120 hectares in size and 40% contained.
The third fire, about 40 hectares burning in Argyle, Yarmouth County, is felt to be “pretty under control” due to fog and rainy conditions in that area. Rudderham said there were also two “spot fires” that flared up in Cumberland and Lunenburg counties, but they were taken care of quickly and extinguished.
“Most of our fires around here are caused by people. We have very few lightning fires in this province every year…The vast majority, almost 100% actually, are caused by people. That’s people either being careless with fires. Usually they make a mistake and it gets away from them,” Rudderham told reporters.
“That’s how it happens. It only takes a second and off it goes. Whether they’re burning brush or they’re having a campfire or doing something outside that could cause an open flame to ignite or a spark to ignite, that’s what causes our fires here in Nova Scotia.”
On Tuesday morning, a news article was shared on the public Facebook group Stop Spraying & Clear-Cutting Nova Scotia. Members of the group who shared and read it said it noted the King’s County fire was caused by a piece of logging machinery. A mechanical failure reportedly led to the equipment catching fire. That version of the article has since been taken down.
The press release issued by the province on Tuesday stated the cause of each of these fires will be investigated. During Tuesday’s media briefing, the Halifax Examiner asked about the possibility of the King’s County fire being caused by logging equipment.
“I’m not aware of anything. I don’t know Jim (Rudderham) if you are, but it is pretty early on in the investigation I think for us to make that determination,” Rankin said.
Rudderham said he hadn’t heard “anything official from the field yet.”
Reporter Evan Taylor from CKBW in Bridgewater asked if any consideration was being given to putting a ban on off-highway vehicles due to the fact they have hot undercarriages that can start fires.
“Of course we will take that action as needed. The last time we had to make such a proclamation was in 2016, limiting people even accessing some of the trails,” Rankin said.
“So far reports are that we’re not in that level of severity.”
CBC reporter Haley Ryan asked Rankin what impact the Antigonish County fire might have on the forestry sector as there’s a great deal of private woodland in the area used by the industry.
Rankin said while it’s too early to make a determination of any impacts, 140 hectares is a significant loss of woodland.
“We have a substantial amount of private and Crown land across the province, and fires are part of our regular year to year assessments. The number’s about 225 fires a year,” Rankin said.
“This year we’re experiencing dry conditions, which may press the number and the actual landmass higher. But that’s part of our kind of state of the province state of the forest assessment that we do each year.”
The pair were also asked how COVID-19 is affecting the work of the fire crews onsite.
“We are taking all the precautions that we can. All along, as an essential service for fighting fires, we have instructed our staff on how to stay safe and follow Dr Strang’s advice, which we continue to do,” Rudderham said.
“It can be very difficult to practice it all the time, but we offer hand washing stations for our crews and hand sanitizers. We’re very careful with how we distribute the meals to them and how we gather the garbage up after that. Social distancing absolutely as much as possible but we are doing our best to limit that while still trying to action these emergency scenes.”
With short term weather forecasts showing a continuation of dry, warm weather for much of the week, Rudderham was asked if officials were concerned about the possibility of more wildfires.
“The next few days are certainly concerning to us. We’re supposed to continue on with the hot dry warm, a little bit more humidity which is welcome,” he said. “But we really do need some good steady rain for a couple days. So yes, it is concerning but we’re ready and we’re ready for the challenge.”
The HRM forest fire over the weekend that led to evacuations in the Porters Lake area and resulted in a few flare-ups on Monday led a Radio Canada reporter to ask about the likelihood of forest fire-related evacuations in the next few hours or days.
Rankin and Rudderham both said all three wildfires currently burning in the province are much farther away from homes than the Porters Lake fire was.
“These three fires of note today are all in remote areas with no homes nearby,” Rudderham said.
Rudderham also said it isn’t unusual to be fighting fires this early in the season.
“Whenever we get into our wildfire risk season and we get any extended period of nice, warm, dry, hot weather like we did this past little bit, we can have these kinds of situations arise,” he said. “It can happen anytime with a fire season for sure. So this is not uncommon.”
This is why members of the public are asked to check for the status of burn bans via the province’s website, which is updated daily at 2 p.m. In addition, they’re urged to check their municipal burn bans before attempting any kind of burning-related activity.