Wildfire forces thousands of people to evacuate in eastern Canada

More than 16,000 people leave their homes as crews battle raging blaze near Halifax, Nova Scotia.

The capital of Canada’s eastern province of Nova Scotia has declared a state of emergency as an out-of-control wildfire raging near Halifax forced thousands of residents to evacuate and prompted the closure of schools.

The Halifax Regional Municipality has set up temporary accommodation for people fleeing the fire and reminded residents early on Monday that the evacuation orders are mandatory.

The wildfire, fed by strong winds and tinder-dry woods, has damaged dozens of homes and hampered rescue services, authorities said.

Dave Meldrum, deputy chief of Halifax Fire, told reporters on Monday that there had been no reports of missing people or injuries but structures had suffered damage or were destroyed.

“Our firefighters and other partners worked hard to evacuate a large area of our city yesterday, and last night, we remained on scene,” Meldrum said.

Smoke from a wildfire in Nova Scotia rises over homes in nearby Bedford, Canada
Smoke from the Tantallon wildfire rises over houses in nearby Bedford, Nova Scotia, Canada, May 28 [Eric Martyn/Reuters]

“We had 100 firefighters here on scene overnight, fighting spot fires, extinguishing structures that were on fire, preventing more structures from being lost wherever we could,” he said.

Halifax, a port city of about 480,000 people, declared a state of emergency late on Sunday to help respond to the blaze, which was still burning in the nearby Tantallon and Hammonds Plains areas.

In a separate statement on Monday morning, it said more than 60 hectares (148 acres) had burned while about 16,400 people had been evacuated from their homes.

“There is not yet a complete count of damage, but it is anticipated that several structures have been lost,” the municipality said.

Nova Scotia Premier Tim Houston said water bombers had arrived from the eastern provinces of New Brunswick and Newfoundland and Labrador to help local crews.

“We are in contact with our municipal and federal partners to ensure every resource is exhausted,” Houston wrote on Twitter.

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said his government was “ready to provide any federal support and assistance needed”.

“The wildfire situation in Nova Scotia is incredibly serious,” Trudeau tweeted.

“We’re keeping everyone affected in our thoughts, and we’re thanking those who are working hard to keep people safe,” he said.

Forest fires also led to the evacuations of about 400 homes in New Brunswick at the weekend, officials said. Mayor Brad Henderson of Saint Andrews, New Brunswick, said on Monday that while progress was made, the blaze was still not under control.

Meanwhile, the provinces of Alberta and British Columbia in western Canada also have been dealing with unusually warm weather that has sparked several out-of-control wildfires, cutting oil and gas production. However, most of those fires have since been brought under control.

Many experts have pointed to climate change as a factor that has worsened extreme weather such as wildfires, heatwaves and tropical storms around the world.

Mike Flannigan, a professor at Thompson Rivers University in British Columbia and a fire weather specialist, told Al Jazeera that while wildfires are common in Canada during the spring season, “this year has been very active”.

“We are seeing more extreme weather occurring in Canada and throughout the world because of climate change, leading to more intense wildfires, which are difficult to impossible to extinguish,” Flannigan said.

In 2016, forest fires in the Alberta oil sands region disrupted oil production, forced 100,000 residents out of Fort McMurray and pummelled the Canadian economy.

A brutal heatwave in British Columbia in 2021 led to hundreds of deaths. The heat also kicked off dozens of wildfires, forcing evacuations and burning entire communities to the ground.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies