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Nova Scotia wildfires prompt evacuations near Halifax, air quality advisory for Maine

A wildfire in Tantallon, Nova Scotia, just west of Halifax.
Nova Scotia Government via Facebook
A wildfire in Tantallon, Nova Scotia, just west of Halifax.

Wildfires have burned more than 32,000 acres in Nova Scotia, prompting the evacuation of thousands of residents, damaging homes and other structures and creating hazy skies in Maine for the next day or so.

Nova Scotia officials said Tuesday they're fighting three out-of-control wildfires. They include one in the Tantallon area outside downtown Halifax that has forced at least 16,400 people to evacuate, and another southeast of Yarmouth in Shelburne County, where about 2,000 people are fleeing their homes.

At least 200 homes and structures have been damaged from the fires, according to Halifax officials.

The fire outside Halifax erupted suddenly on Sunday. Brett Ruskin, a reporter for CBC News Nova Scotia, said it spread so quickly that many people weren't aware it was burning until they received a notice to evacuate.

"Some people who, on a Sunday afternoon were either out shopping or out for a bite to eat, would have gotten a notification, and wouldn't have even been able to get back home to pick up their important documents, to pick up their medication, to pick up their pets," he said.

At least three people in Ruskin's CBC newsroom have been forced to evacuate, he added.

Nova Scotia officials with the Royal Canadian Mounted Police said Tuesday that they may, when it's safe to do so, escort people who were forced to leave their pets behind back to their homes on a case-by-case basis.

"One woman who had her dog and her cat in her home was hoping that perhaps they had gotten out of the burning home before it was basically leveled, and that perhaps they would be in the area when she's able to return," Ruskin said. "Obviously we don't know when anyone will be able to return. But it's just a lot of heartache for those who hear news about their properties and uncertainty for everyone who hasn't heard yet."

The spring in Nova Scotia has been warm and dry, Ruskin added. And Hurricane Fiona knocked down trees and large branches last fall, which are still lying in the woods drying up.

"There is just this viable, ample fuel source all across the forest floor of Nova Scotia," Ruskin said. "We knew that it could be bad this year, but no one really expected it to be perhaps as sudden or early or as severe to see hundreds of homes, or structures, at least, damaged significantly or destroyed by this fire."

Canadian officials on Tuesday announced a ban of all travel and activity within the woods of Nova Scotia, which includes hiking, camping, hunting, mining and forestry. It comes on the heels of a burning ban throughout the province.

"Our resources are stretched incredibly thin right now fighting existing fires," Nova Scotia Premier Tim Houston said Tuesday during a press conference. "We have to protect our existing resources where that's possible."

Sunny, warm and windy conditions are expected to persist for at least a few more days this week, making for difficult and dangerous firefighting conditions.

The Maine Department of Environmental Protection has issued an air quality advisory for the state Tuesday and Wednesday, because smoke from the fires has moved over the Gulf of Maine.

Wind and an afternoon sea breeze will bring the smoke ashore Tuesday afternoon and evening. A plume of smoke is expected to move inland overnight.

DEP officials said skies will be hazy and visibility may be reduced. Mainers may be able to detect the smell of smoke in the air. Still, officials said the air quality index should remain at the moderate level.

Children, healthy adults who exert themselves and others with a respiratory disease such as asthma may experience shortness of breath, coughing or irritation in their chest, DEP officials said. Those with heart disease should avoid strenuous activities outside, keep windows closed and circulate the air indoors with a fan or air conditioner.