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Crews resume fighting two major wildfires across Nova Scotia

Tuesday, May 26th 2020, 2:01 pm - Largest fire, estimated at nearly 150 hectares, burning about 40 km east of Antigonish

Nova Scotia crews resumed the battle Tuesday against two large wildfires in the province, as ongoing windy and dry conditions left firefighters with little relief.

The largest blaze was in Havre Boucher, about 40 kilometres east of Antigonish. The province said the fire, which began Monday, was 148 hectares in size and centred around the Frankville area near Old Mulgrave Road.

Municipal councillor Neil Corbett said Tuesday morning the fire wasn't currently nearing any homes or communities, but a lot of the woodland in the area was privately owned.

"It is concerning and perhaps a little bit nerve-wracking for the people up in the back area," Corbett said.

"If you think about it, that's a bit of their livelihood. They use it for firewood as well as when the industry needs it for the mills.

"It's something that the people in the community are losing."

About 31 volunteer firefighters and 22 Lands and Forestry personnel were joined by a helicopter Tuesday to continue fighting the blaze, which the province said was considered 50 per cent contained as of 12:30 p.m. but still considered out of control.

Lands and Forestry Minister Iain Rankin said Tuesday afternoon it was "too early" to tell what the damage might mean for those in the forestry industry.

"One hundred and forty-eight hectares is a significant loss, but we'll have to wait and assess what the impact is," Rankin said during a media briefing.

There's a substantial amount of both private and Crown land across the province, Rankin said, and fires are part of the province's regular "year-to-year" assessment.

He said Nova Scotia usually sees about 225 fires a year. Although this year has brought dry conditions so far, which might press that number higher, that will be considered in the government's annual look at the state of the forests.

UNCLEAR WHAT STARTED FIRE

Corbett said since there's "nobody up there" in the area of the fire, residents are left to speculate on how it could have started. A piece of glass might have magnified the sun and led to the burn, he suggested.

Since the woods have been so dry and there is an ongoing burn ban in the province, Corbett said he "can't imagine" anyone would have been there lighting a fire.

The other major fire, in the Springfield area of Kings County near Alton Road, was also considered out of control Tuesday and had grown to 120 hectares.

Jim Rudderham, the province's acting manager for forest protection in Nova Scotia, said during the update with Rankin that the fire was about 40 per cent contained.

There were 25 Lands and Forestry members on the scene with a helicopter and a piece of heavy equipment, Rudderham said.

Although both are larger fires, Rudderham said there are luckily no nearby towns or groups of homes that are threatened, unlike the weekend blaze in Porters Lake where more than 500 homes were evacuated.

That fire is under control, but still being patrolled for hot spots after additional flare-ups on Monday.

This string of fires is "not uncommon" for the province after a week of warm and dry weather, Rudderham said, and unfortunately that trend is supposed to continue.

Environment Canada meteorologist Ian Hubbard said the province is in for dry and sunny weather this week, with winds in the range of 40 kilometres per hour, or 50 in some areas.

There won't be a chance of any major precipitation until late Friday or Saturday, he said.

"We really do need some good steady rain for a couple of days. So yes it is concerning, but we're ready and we're ready for the challenge," Rudderham said.

Rudderham and Rankin reminded everyone in Nova Scotia to be mindful of the provincewide burn ban, and said people should be very careful they're not doing anything outside that could cause a fire.

"The vast majority, almost 100 percent actually, are caused by people," Rudderham said.

It's often people being careless with their brush or camp fires, he said, when someone makes a mistake and it gets away from them.

"It only takes a second and off it goes," Rudderham said.

WATCH BELOW: ABOVE AVERAGE SEASON FOR FIRES ACROSS MUCH OF CANADA, ACCORDING TO NATURAL RESOURCES CANADA

SMALLER FIRES IN YARMOUTH, CAPE BRETON

Another fire that measured about 40 hectares in the Argyle area of Yarmouth County has been brought under control, Rudderham said.

The area is accessible only by helicopter. Rudderham said although rain and fog prevented a chopper from taking off so crews could check for hotspots, the wet conditions were helping to put out the fire.

In Grand South Mira, about 30 kilometres south of Sydney in Cape Breton, crews responded to a wildfire that covered about eight hectares of land and was considered contained Monday night.

Crews with Lands and Forestry returned Tuesday to monitor for hot spots.

Rudderham said two more small spot fires flared up in Cumberland and Lunenburg counties Tuesday, but were already out by 12:30 p.m.

There have been no evacuations ordered so far, and no homes damaged or threatened in any of the fires.

The causes of the fires are under investigation.

This article, written by Haley Ryan, was originally published for CBC News.

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