Follow live updates as smoke from the Canadian wildfires pollutes the air across the northern US
As wildfires ravaged western Canada on Tuesday, blazes on the other side of the country in Halifax, Nova Scotia, have forced the evacuation of more than 16,000 people, adding to national anxiety over out-of-control wildfires that are claiming the lives of people.
Video footage from downtown Halifax late on Sunday showed a thick plume of smoke engulfing the city, the sun apocalyptic red, as fires blazed northwest of the city, spreading the smoke. The fire occurred in an area that is about 15 miles from Halifax and is home to many suburban professionals and families.
Wildfires have been burning across western Canada, including British Columbia, and the 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 shows that heat and drought linked to global warming are the main reasons for bigger and more intense fires.
In Nova Scotia, there have been 195 wildfires so far this year compared to 153 in 2022. But officials say the blazes have intensified this year.
Wildfires off both coasts of Canada have created a bad feeling. The fear and anxiety are over Halifaxa usually serene maritime city on Canada’s Atlantic coast that was founded in 1749 and served as a British naval and military base.
The city government has declared a state of emergency, and on Monday, provincial government officials said that about 200 buildings and structures had been damaged by the fire. Authorities said on Tuesday that so far, no deaths, injuries or missing persons had been reported.
Heidi MacInnes, owner of Restless Pines Farm and a resident of Hammonds Plains, in an area affected by the fires, said it was very difficult to evacuate her house with her partner, 22 year old daughter and 57 horses.
“There was a burning ember that fell in my driveway,” he said. “There’s no time to talk to anyone about anything – it’s just an act.” He said he was afraid of losing his house.
Ms MacInnes made calls on social media to help transport the horses, and was encouraged by all the offers of hay pails, horse and water transport trailers, along with rotisserie chickens to help feed the people who help her.
“I think the most important thing to take away from this is the value of people helping each other in times like these,” he said.
On Tuesday, the government of the province of Nova Scotia Department of Natural and Renewable Resources said that the forest fires had affected about 788 hectares, or about 1,950 acres, and remained “out of control.”
“This is a fast-moving fire,” the department said in a statement. “People were asked to stay away from the area.” Provincial officials warned that conditions were also dangerous for firefighters due to strong winds.
An investigation is underway to determine the cause of the fire. But Scott Tingley, forest protection manager for the Department of Natural and Renewable Resources in Nova Scotia, told a news conference on Monday that authorities suspect the recent fires were human-caused.
More than 200 firefighters have been deployed to extinguish the blaze, and members of the Canadian Department of National Defense have also been dispatched to the scene.
Fire also affects everyday life. More than a dozen schools were closed, while bonfires were banned.
Canadian health officials have warned that the smoke can cause symptoms including sore and watery eyes, coughing, dizziness, chest pain and heart palpitations.
In Alberta, as of May 19, some 29,000 people were forced from their homes by recent wildfires, although most have returned to their homes in recent days as the scale and scope of the fires have reduced.
The blazes in Alberta have revived bad memories of 2016, when a violent fire destroyed 2,400 buildings in Fort McMurray, the heart of Canada’s oil sands region with the world’s third largest oil reserves.
In 2021, British Columbia was the site of one of Canada’s worst wildfires in decades, when blazes devastated the small community of Lytton after temperatures there hit a record 49.6 degrees Celsius, or 121.3 Fahrenheit.