By Michael MacDonald and Michael Tutton
As an unprecedented string of wildfires in Nova Scotia continued to burn out of control for a fourth day, fire officials were hoping for a break in the dry, windy weather. But that probably won’t happen until Friday night at the earliest, according to the latest forecast.
And while municipal officials held talks Tuesday about allowing some of the 16,000 people evacuated from their Halifax-area residences to return home, deputy fire Chief David Meldrum made it clear Wednesday that wasn’t about to happen.
“We are not changing the evacuation zone at this time,” he told a news briefing outside a command post at Upper Tantallon, N.S. “I would recommend that everyone anticipate, given the weather forecast, (not) making plans for re-entry.”
Meldrum said the 8.4-square kilometre fire northwest of the port city’s downtown, which grew slightly overnight, could flare up again because of the weather.
“I cannot speculate on when this fire will be under control,” he said. “I would encourage all of us to be ready for a long firefight. We’ve got a lot of dry-weather days ahead.”
Wind gusts from the southwest were expected to reach 25 kilometres per hour, and the temperature was forecast to rise to about 25 C, with the humidity remaining very low at around 20 per cent.
Meldrum says that under those conditions, the fire could quickly grow and spread, which is why the 100-square-kilometre evacuation zone will remain in place.
Fire officials say an estimated 200 structures, including 151 homes, have been destroyed since the fire started in the Upper Tantallon area on Sunday afternoon.
“It’s a site of tragedy,” Meldrum said. “There’s widespread destruction, and there’s a level of randomness that comes with wildfires when they hit … where people live. There are properties that are unharmed close to properties that are destroyed. It’s terrible to see. These are people’s homes.”
David Steeves, a forest resources technician with Nova Scotia’s Department of Natural Resources, said winds from the south are considered “drying winds” that will draw moisture from leaves and twigs on the ground.
When humidity levels get close to the forecast temperature, that’s a worrying phenomenon firefighters refer to as a “crossover.”
“That’s an indicator of extreme fire behaviour,” Steves said. “Today could be a day that is very dangerous for the folks on the ground.”
Meanwhile, a much larger uncontained fire in southwestern Nova Scotia has forced 2,000 people to leave their homes since the fire started on the weekend in Shelburne County.
As of Wednesday, the fire northwest of Barrington, N.S., had grown to almost 200 square kilometres, making it one of largest wildfires ever recorded in the province.
As well, a third out-of-control fire is burning near East Pubnico in southwestern Nova Scotia, though it is tiny by comparison at only one square kilometre but growing.
No deaths or injuries have been reported as a result of the fires.
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