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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

More than 16,000 evacuated as wildfire rages outside Halifax

By Dan Bilefsky and Meagan Campbell

As wildfires buffeted western Canada on Tuesday, a blaze on the opposite end of the country in Halifax, Nova Scotia, has forced the evacuation of more than 16,000 people, compounding the national anxiety over out-of-control wildfires upending peoples’ lives.

Video footage of downtown Halifax late Sunday showed a dense plume of smoke enveloping the city, the sun an apocalyptic red, as a fire northwest of the city raged, spreading the smoke. The blaze has also affected an area that is about 15 miles from Halifax and that is home to many suburban professionals and families.

Wildfires have broken out throughout western Canada, including British Columbia, and hardest hit has been Alberta, an oil- and gas-producing province sometimes referred to as “the Texas of the North.” Earlier this month, the province declared a state of emergency.

Climate research suggests that heat and drought associated with global warming are major reasons for bigger and stronger fires.

The wildfires on both Canadian coasts have ushered in a feeling of foreboding.

Fear and unease have settled over Halifax, a normally serene maritime city on Canada’s Atlantic coast that was founded in 1749 and served as a British naval and military base.

City authorities have declared a state of emergency, and on Monday, provincial government officials said that an estimated 200 buildings and structures had been damaged by the fire. Authorities said Tuesday that so far, no deaths, injuries or missing people had been reported.

On Tuesday, the Nova Scotia provincial government’s Department of Natural Resources and Renewables said that the wildfire had affected an estimated 788 hectares (about 1,950 acres) and remained “out of control.”

“This is a rapidly moving fire,” the department said in a statement. “People are asked to please remain away from the area.” Provincial officials warned that the conditions were also dangerous for firefighters because of strong winds.

An investigation is underway into the cause of the fire. But Scott Tingley, manager of forest protection for the Department of Natural Resources and Renewables in Nova Scotia, said at a news conference Monday that authorities suspected the recent fires were “human caused.”

More than 200 firefighters have been mobilized to battle the fire, and members of Canada’s Department of National Defense have also been dispatched to the scene.

The fire is also affecting daily lives. More than a dozen schools have closed, while campfires have been banned.

Canadian health officials have warned that smoke can cause symptoms including sore and watery eyes, coughing, dizziness, chest pains and heart palpitations.

In Alberta, as of May 19, roughly 29,000 people had been forced from their homes by the recent wildfires, although most have returned to their homes in recent days as the fires have diminished in scale and scope.

The blazes in Alberta have revived bad memories of 2016, when a raging wildfire destroyed 2,400 buildings in Fort McMurray, the heart of Canada’s oil sands region with the third-largest reserves of oil in the world.

In 2021, British Columbia was the site of one of Canada’s worst wildfires in recent decades, when blazes decimated the tiny community of Lytton after temperatures there reached a record 49.6 degrees Celsius (121.3 Fahrenheit).

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