NS Forest Fires

The sky from peninsular Halifax on May 28, 2023. It had been a cloudless day. Suddenly the sky darkened.

View also the subpages
NS Gov on Wildfires
Ecological Recovery/Fire Ecology
FireSmart Practices
Hammonds Plains/Tantallon fires 2023
Shelburne Area Fire

Also view Fire Ecology and subpages on backlandscoalition.ca.
These materials relate mostly to the “Backlands” and the associated Jack Pine-Crowberry barrens.

I have had a keen interest in the fire ecology of the local landscape since 2006 when I first viewed the Jackpine-Crowberry barrens in the Halifax Backlands. There was a major fire in the Backlands in 2009 (the “Spryfield Fire”), followed  the next year on the eastern shore, Porter’s Lake area. Up until this year (2023),  those two fires were the largest in NS since the early 1990s (NRR Stats).

As the editor of backlandscoalition.ca, I have tried to increase pubic awareness of the fire-prone nature of the Backlands, most recently on May 21, of this year.

On Sunday May 28 of this year (2023),  it was reported  that “Hot, dry and windy conditions on Sunday helped cause a series of wildfires in Atlantic Canada, with at least 10 reported in Nova Scotia…So far, Nova Scotia has reported 176 wildfires this season, compared to 70 at this time in 2022” (CTV News)

The situation  got progressively more dire in the several days following and through to the following week when some fairly heavy rains helped firefighters to gain control of most but not all of the larger fires. In the meantime, the fire situation in Quebec worsened, and by June 7, Canada at large was on track “for its worst-ever wildfire season on record”, affecting air quality well beyond our borders.

Update Sep 9, 2023: Ironically, perhaps, beginning in early June, we had excessively wet weather in NS and throughout the summer and we had several days of extreme flooding.  This wet summer weather has been attributed to warmer ocean waters nearby. So unlike the situation in western Canada, our fires were firmly extinguished.

There have been many news items, those cited below were chosen to be representative of the larger set of news items.

News items are listed below with most recent items at top.

May 26, 2024:
Burnt trees, new life
By Aly Thomson, CBC News “Thousands of trees were destroyed in a wildfire outside Halifax last year. Now some of them are returning in a very different form…”“If you can imagine that you had a garden that was growing and you didn’t weed your garden and all the weeds were coming up and it was very thick, if a fire went through that, there’s a lot more fuel there and the fire would be a lot more intense,” he says.” It’s a claim disputed by Donna Crossland, who has dedicated her life to forest ecology. She works with the Healthy Forest Coalition, a group that protests clearcutting of Nova Scotia’s forests…”

Feb 9, 2024:
Georgia’s Fire Management at a Crossroads: Balancing Prescribed Burns and Climate Change
By Momen Zellmi BNN Breaking “Georgia’s delicate balance of fire and land management, crucial for ecosystem health and wildfire prevention, is threatened by climate change. Fewer ‘good burn days’ and environmental regulations pose challenges for land managers, demanding innovative solutions to protect both nature and human wellbeing.”

Feb 1, 2024:
Effects of clear-cut logging on forest fires
By Eli Pivnick, North Okanagan Climate Action Now/The Similkameen Spotlight “The idea that clear-cuts help stop forest fires is a myth. That is the conclusion of a number of recent studies in the western U.S. Clear-cuts provide an area hotter and drier than the surrounding forests in fire season. Without trees, clear-cuts have no wind breaks, which allow wind speeds to increase. Clear-cut logging tends to spread invasive grasses, which are flammable. In the first several years after logging, fires in a clear cut will burn hotter and travel faster than in the surrounding forest. In the western U.S., forested areas around a community are some times clear-cut to reduce fire risk. This is termed “thinning.” However, this actually increases risk. One example is the Camp Fire which destroyed the town of Paradise, CA., in 2018. The forested area around Paradise had previously been “thinned.” No forest treatment more than 30 metres from a dwelling has been shown to reduce fire risk.”

Dec 28, 2023:
Wall Street Journal Gets Carbon Storage Wrong
George Wuerthner in Wildlife News “The Wall Street Journal’s December 21, 2023, editorial board wrote that Biden’s New Forest Plan will “lead to more uncontrolled fires—and won’t help the climate.” The WSJ is upset that the Biden Administration plans to ban logging of old-growth forests on national forest lands, a proposal they characterize as a “land grab.The WSJ disputes the assertion made by the Biden Administration and many scientists that old-growth forests capture and store CO2, thus slowing climate warming. The editorial is full of the usual timber industry rhetoric that national forests are “overgrown” and need to be logged to be “healthy.”…”

Dec 11, 2023:
In Halifax, a call to promote old-growth forests as a guard against future wildfires
By Michael Tutton Canadian Press in CBC. “As he stands near a Nova Scotia forest with soaring 150-year-old trees, Mike Lancaster sees a natural, long-term solution to the threat wildfires pose to city dwellers…The director of the St. Margaret’s Bay Stewardship Association said much of the 1,000 hectares that ignited in May — destroying 151 homes and businesses in Halifax’s western suburbs — was young, dense, coniferous woodland that had grown after decades of intensive logging. Pointing to the canopy of older-growth trees just three kilometres from lands scarred by wildfire, Lancaster describes how the space between the trees, the mixture of species and the higher branches decrease flammability. ..After a historic wildfire season across Canada, experts are turning their eyes to Nova Scotia as a harbinger of the growing risk facing cities on the forest’s edge. “If Halifax can burn, any place can burn, and that blows all our minds,” says John Vaillant, author of the award-winning “Fire Weather: The Making of a Beast,” which tells the story of the 2016 Fort McMurray forest fire. Vaillant said in an interview that Nova Scotia’s urban wildfires were a shock to fire experts across Canada, making the province’s next steps a matter of national interest…what — if any — changes will be made to Nova Scotia’s forestry practices in 2024 is unclear, as the department has yet to release initial findings on how the Halifax-area blaze ignited and what might prevent a recurrence. ..When it comes to leaving forests to regenerate, Steenberg says poor soil and other conditions that limit growth mean that about a quarter of the province’s forest will yield shorter-lived trees that are susceptible to frequent fires…“Old-growth (forests) aren’t necessarily more or less susceptible to fires,” he says. “It depends on the conditions. Old-growths are complex and often have different-aged woods in them and may have coarse, woody materials that can be fuels.”…Eric Rapaport, a Dalhousie University professor of planning who has studied fire risks in the Halifax area since 2012, says the time may have come for the province and city to approach landowners to ask them to consider accepting “a good fire break” between woodlands and homes.Rapaport is also an advocate for creating the equivalent of floodplain mapping for fires, where publicly available maps would provide tree-by-tree detail of fire dangers…For Vaillant, the author, better preparation is key to minimizing future destruction.”


Nov 16, 2023:
The Crucial Role of Forestry in Preventing Devastating Wildfires
Blog post on forestns.ca “Many people say that we just need to plant more hardwood. It’s not that simple. Nova Scotia’s wildfires this summer completely burnt multiple hardwood stands. Yes, hardwood is more resilient to wildfires, but it is not fireproof. With massive amounts of forest fire fuel on the ground, hardwood will burn, too. And hardwood doesn’t create lumber to build homes…Our push to protect more and more of the forest will add to wildfire risk and result in our forests becoming net emitters of carbon…We are facing increased wildfire risk because our forests are not as actively managed as they should be, and fewer women and men work in the woods.” COMMENT: See Would “thinning areas where harvesting isn’t allowed” as advocated by Forest Nova Scotia reduce wildfire risk? 23Nov2023

Nov 9, 2023:
Concern rising over increasing carbon emissions from Canada’s forest fires
By Doyle Potenteau Global News “…Wieting says the impacts are so high that “carbon emissions connected to forests are close to three times higher compared to all our other emissions from burning fossil fuels.” He says those wildfire emission totals are hidden in B.C.’s accounting, “and it’s a major problem because we cannot continue to ignore these emissions.””

Oct 30, 2023:
Nova Scotia saw its most devastating wildfire season on record in 2023
CBC News “According to the provincial government, a total of 220 wildfires impacted approximately 25,096 hectares this season, which typically runs from April to mid-October. More than 150 homes were lost in a wildfire that started in Upper Tantallon, N.S., just outside Halifax on May 28. On the province’s southwestern tip, about 60 homes and other structures burned in the province’s largest wildfire on record, which broke out that same weekend and affected 23,525 hectares.”

Oct 29, 2023:
‘It gives them hope’: Volunteers plant trees on land devastated by N.S. wildfire
By Ella MacDonald Global News “..Carter says they plan to plant hardwood trees — in this case, sugar maples — around the edge of the block, due to their slower burn rates. “And as you come in, it will be the pine and the spruce, with the idea being that if there was a fire, the rate of spread would be less in the hardwood, near the edge.””

Oct 28, 2023:
Future of wildfires: What will happen to Canada’s scorched forests as fires worsen?
By Katherine Cheng Global News

Oct 16, 2023:
Halifax’s emergency system caused confusion, frustration, wildfire report finds
Suzanne Rent in the Hfx Examiner. Intro in Morning File References a new report: Upper Tantallon Wildfire Lessons Learned (HRM doc for discussion at Oct 17, 2023 Regional Council)

Sep 24, 2023:
From the ashes: Research road trip maps regeneration after wildfires
Tavor Gaster in ubyssey.com “…Members of the UBC Integrated Remote Sensing Studio, including Smith-Tripp, took a two-week remote sensing fieldwork road trip across the country. From the Acadian broadleaf forests of New Brunswick to BC’s temperate rainforests, they used drones to scan landscapes from timber plantations to bare ash. The researchers call themselves the “Scantiques Roadshow.” The Scantiques Roadshow is a part of a Canada-wide study that focuses on developing new methods to monitor how forests respond to disturbances like wildfires, droughts and pests. …Part of the Scantiques Roadshow team’s job is to find out why some forests grow back relatively quickly while others falter. “Understanding what forests look like after a disturbance occurs is really important, “said Smith-Tripp. “We also should plan for that sort of resiliency within forests because we know that our forests are operating under greater stresses.” (Extract as cited in TreeFrog Forestry News for Sep 25, 2023)

Sep 13, 2023:
Learning to live with wildfire
By UBC Okanagan News, The University of British Columbia. “UBC Okanagan researchers take an interdisciplinary approach to wildfire management…While it sounds unorthodox, carefully planned, small-scale controlled burns in strategic areas can yield a variety of benefits, says Dr. Bourbonnais. They remove accumulated dry fuel for future fires, make breaks in massive expanses of forest and even help regenerate entire ecosystems that can restart and thrive in burned-out areas.It’s an idea the general public may be hesitant to embrace.”

Sep 8, 2023:
Forest blackened by Saint Andrews-area fire sprouts signs of life
Mia Urquhart · CBC News. “Homeowner sees renewal, UNB tree expert says fire a normal part of forest regeneration”

Aug 24, 2023:
Canadians unified on forest protection although wildfire cause divisive: poll
Canadian Press on rdnnewsnow.com

Aug 23, 2023:
Halifax councillors hope to make Tantallon wildfire ‘a catalyst for change
Zane Woodford in the Halifax Examiner (subscription required; intro. in Morning File)

Aug 10, 2023:
Historical Fire Regimes and Recent Wildfire Trends in Canada and Nova Scotia
YpuTube Webinar on MTRI channel
The 2023 fire season in Canada has drawn widespread attention due to the exceptional area burned and the number of people affected. Our Summer Seminar with Ellen Whitman, Forest Fire Research Scientist at Natural Resources Canada, on Aug. 10, 7-8 p.m. will help viewers contextualize this year with an understanding of historical fire activity and the natural role wildfires play in our forests, both nationally and provincially. We will conclude by discussing how modern climate change and fire suppression have contributed to recent and ongoing changes to Canadian fire activity and the associated ecological impacts of shifting fire regimes.

July 31, 2023:
Swedish study shows secondary forests more sensitive to drought than primary forests
by Lund University in phys.org

July 25, 2023:
Climate change: Correlation between wildfires, flooding in Nova Scotia
By Hina Alam The Canadian Press in the Toronto Star “The fingerprints of climate change are all over the supercharged weather witnessed this year in Nova Scotia — and the rest of the country — from raging wildfires to devastating flooding.”
Commercial building codes lack strong wildfire-management provisions, indoor air quality controls, says expert
M Lewis for Globe & Mail

July 18, 2023:
What’s happening to the many trees charred by the N.S. wildfire?
Heidi Petracek for CTV News. Charred wood can still be sawed and helps pay for clearn-up

July, 6, 2023:
Biodiversity, better forest management key to combat wildfire: experts
Cindy Tran for Edmonton Journal. “Old forests and mature forests are actually more resilient to wildfires than younger forests.”

July 4, 2023:
One extreme to the next: June completely erased Nova Scotia’s rain deficits of early spring
Ryan Snoddon · CBC News “April and May of this year were unusually dry, compared to the 30-year average…[but since June 1] Rainfall totals are way up in most areas of Nova Scotia, compared to the 30-year average.”

Burning restrictions chart for July 4, 2023 Exceptionally wet weather in NS over most the last month has changed the fire hazard situation dramatically

July 3, 2023:
As California fire season begins, debate over wildfire retardant heats up
By Hayley Smith Los Angeles Times (Also used in Canada)

June 29, 2023:
‘It burns wild and free up there’: Canada fires force US crews to shift strategy
By Gabrielle Canon& Leyland Cecco in The Guardian/ Pertinent to NS as our recently out-of-control fires occurred in areas of significant settlement (as in much of the US area where there are regular wildfires), versus many wildfires in Canada which are in very remote areas and are allowed to burn,”While there’s been a slow shift to bring healthy fires back to the forests – experts have criticized US agencies with causing more devastation by not letting enough land burn.”

June 19, 2023:
Here’s how you can help protect your property from wildfire, say safety experts
ances Willick · CBC News

June 17, 2023:
Wildfire in southern N.S. occurred amid some of driest recorded conditions: scientist
Michael Tutton for The Canadian Press, in the Penticton Herald “Driest woods since 1944 key to N.S. wildfire” Article cites AR Taylor on recent stats, climate warming; and Donna Crossland on historical forests fires

June 16, 2023
Officials knew of wildfire risk in Upper Tantallon for years but did nothing, say residents
Haley Ryan · CBC News “Earlier reports warned of wildfire risks in Upper Tantallon, where wildland meets urban space…In 2016, wildfire prevention officer Kara McCurdy determined the northern end of Westwood Hills was at “extreme” risk, with southern parts at high and moderate risk.Her protection plan made a number of recommendations, including creating a gated emergency road through to Wright Lake Run, installing dry fire hydrants since there are none, and creating a community buffer of thinned trees around the subdivision. Dry hydrants allow for a water supply when there is no municipal system available…Halifax received a 2013 study from Dalhousie University that was partially funded by the Halifax municipality and developed a model to identify the future forest risk of forest fires in the area.”We found very high risks in some of the places where the forest kind of interfaces directly with residential homes,” said Eric Rapaport, report co-author and professor with Dalhousie University’s School of Planning.

The report suggested the city create bylaws to clear space around residential homes, limit ongoing development in wildland-urban interface areas, educate private citizens in high-risk areas, and to “manage WUI areas for fire risk.”

“It is a bit frustrating when we don’t see things change and then we run into problems,” Rapaport said.

Rapaport said he was surprised to see the Upper Tantallon wildfire spread so quickly. But in the aftermath, he has used data to see there were large swaths of quick-burning trees in most of the affected subdivisions — which McCurdy’s assessment also noted.

‘The evidence was there’
“We could have identified those trees and we could have started … 10 years ago in trying to remove some of that risk,” Rapaport said.

June 15, 2023
Are forest fires in Canada becoming more frequent and larger – or not?
An op-ed type of article in the Financial Post by Prof Ross McKitrick (University of Guelph and the Fraser Institute) has ellicted some critical discussion of fire stats around the issue of whether forest fires are becoming more frequent, larger — or not. I will try to keep track of this important debate – See http://versicolor.ca/nstriad/hrm-forest-fire/on-cndn-forest-fire-stats/

June 13, 2023:
Barrington Lake Wildfire Under Control
NRR. “The Barrington Lake wildfire in Shelburne County is now under control. The final size of the fire is 23,525 hectares (about 235 square kilometres). It is not expected to spread.

June 12, 2023:
Retired Halifax firefighter Paul Irving says he urged that the FireSmart program be adopted in 2004, but was ignored
Jennifer henderson in the Halifax Examiner
Is Eastern Canada doomed to follow the West into harsher wildfire seasons?
Matthew McLearn in https://www.theglobeandmail.com/
Over 1% of Canada’s forests burned the past few weeks, officials say aging trees big factor
ByMo Fahim in www.mymuskokanow.com/
The NS wildfires are not ‘natural’ disasters: climate change, forest management, and human folly are all to blame
Joan Baxter in the Halifax Examiner
N.S. government must help communities prepare for more wildfires: climate experts
By Michael TuttonThe Canadian Press/Toronto Star

June 11. 2023:
139 firefighters from Canada, U.S. battling Nova Scotia’s Barrington Lake blaze
The Canadian Press/CTV Atlantic News. “..The Barrington Lake fire in Shelburne County has grown to about 235 square kilometres since it first broke out on May 27. Provincial officials say it remains out of control, but it has stopped spreading.”

June 9, 2023:
In the wake of wildfires, forests’ ability to trap carbon ‘goes up in smoke’
Doug Johnson for the Weather network. Interview with Werner Kurz, a senior research scientist with the Canadian Forest Service. Useful Link in article: CCA nature Based Climate Solutions: Forests

June 8, 2023:

An expert explains the science of wildfires
Suzanne Rent in the Hfx Examiner., interview with Ellen Whitman. Of note:

HE: What are the differences between the fires in Nova Scotia and say the fires happening in Ontario and Quebec right now?

EW: A major difference there is the forest type, for one thing. You do have a patchier landscape in Nova Scotia in terms of the availability of those continuous conifer fuels. Those fires burned in conifer-dominated areas and created some of the biggest fires Nova Scotia ever experienced. However, the fires that are happening in other parts of eastern Canada right now are in the boreal forests. It’s a much more conifer-dominated landscape. There’s lots of continuous fuel available.

Nova Scotia’s fiery past — and potential future — with an environmental advocate (audio)
CBC Mainstreet “Donna Crossland started her career researching the history of fire in the Kouchibouguac National Park in New Brunswick. Now the vice-president of Nature Nova Scotia, Crossland has written an essay called “Nova Scotia’s Fiery Past.” She spoke with Mainstreet’s Alex Mason about that history, and what we can learn from it.”
Essay: Nova Scotia’s Fiery Past
Ecologist’s perspective on the Keji-area fires (Post on nsforestnotes.ca, Aug 17, 2016).

June 7, 2023:
Canada marks Clean Air Day with worst air quality in the world, as feds consider disaster response agency
By Mia Rabson Canadian Press in CTV News

From British Columbia to Nova Scotia, Wildfires Spread Across Canada
By Dan Bilefsky and Vjosa Isai in the NY Times June 7, 2023 “In a country known for its picturesque landscapes and orderliness, the out-of-control wildfires have stoked unease and underlined the perils of global warming…Until now, he said, many on the east coast had not been exposed, firsthand, to the health risks of air pollution caused by wildfires that have gripped the western provinces over recent years. “There’s essentially a disconnect,” he said. “They haven’t had this experience.” Comment: This not completely correct. I remember, admittedly prob 40 yrs ago, when we had an extended period of grey skies and smokey air from forest fires in Quebec. More frequently and according to atmospheric conditions, the air is that of the industrial heartland of US & Canada; we are the tail pipe.

June 6, 2023:
Update on Wildfires, June 6
NS Gov. “The Barrington Lake wildfire in Shelburne County is still out of control. In total, there are five active wildfires in the province today, June 6”

Fire update and emergency alerts
Tim Bousquet in MorningFile (Halifax Examiner).”Firefighting efforts in Nova Scotia have been greatly helped by a change in the weather — more than 90 millimetres of rain fell on the southwest part of the province Sunday and Monday, with some areas receiving 120 millimetres… worry is about alert fatigue”

June 5, 2023:
Wildfire risk for most of Nova Scotia expected to remain unusually high this summer
Skye Bryden-Blom Global News. ““There are just places we shouldn’t be putting housing,” says assistant Dalhousie professor Alana Westwood. “There are certain kinds of forest ecosystems that are literally meant to burn, for example, ecosystems that are dominated by species called Jack Pine, their cones are opened by fire.”

Halifax area weater June 2 onward
Click on image for larger version

June 4, 2023:
Update on Wildfires, June 4 (morning)
NRR. “Barrington Lake, Shelburne County: fire is still out of control, covering 24,980 hectares (249.8 square kilometres); Lake Road, Municipality of the District of Shelburne:
fire is being held at an estimated 114 hectares; Pubnico, Yarmouth County: fire is being held at 138 hectares; Westwood Hills, Tantallon: fire is under control at an estimated 950 hectares and is 100 per cent contained; Hammonds Plains: fire is under control at four hectares and is 100 per cent contained

June 3, 2023:
Rain brings much-needed relief to firefighters battling Nova Scotia wildfires
By The Associated Press on npr.org

June 2, 2023:
Urban sprawl on wooded lands presents unique challenges when fires spread: experts
Hina Alam The Canadian Press. “Halifax blaze shows complexity of urban wildfires”

About that rain in the forecast…
By Kyle Shaw in the Coast.  “Nova Scotia needs wet weather to fight wildfires, and to catch up after a historically dry spring.”

June 1, 2023:
Tantallon wildfire 50% contained; new fire in Shelburne County, while others out of control
Suzanne Rent and Tim Bousquet in Halifax Examiner Morning File. A set of items about the fire situation in NS.

May 30, 2023:
How climate change is fuelling fires in Eastern Canada
By Cloe Logan in the National Observer.

A timeline of the Upper Tantallon wildfire
In The Coast

May 29, 2023:
Raging Fires in Nova Scotia
NASA Earth Observatory.Amazing Satellite Imagery

Forestry expert discusses wildfire situation in the Maritimes
Global News.

May 28, 2023:
Tracking forest fires across Nova Scotia
CTV News. “Hot, dry and windy conditions on Sunday helped cause a series of wildfires in Atlantic Canada, with at least 10 reported in Nova Scotia…So far, Nova Scotia has reported 176 wildfires this season, compared to 70 at this time in 2022”

Wildland Urban Interface Community Wildfire Protection Plan Prepared for: Hammonds Plains Road, Halifax Regional Municipality, Nova Scotia
By: Kara McCurdy – Wildfire Prevention Office 2017 PDF doc Posted by CBC