Nova Scotia battles its largest fire in history

Canadian firefighters are fighting the biggest wildfire in the history of the Atlantic province. The fire on the southern tip of the province has burned over 17,000 hectares (42,000+ acres), with flamelengths reaching nearly 100m (328 feet). And another fire near Halifax has forced the evacuation of thousands of residents. Smoke has drifted south, triggering air quality warnings in the U.S., according to BBC News reports.

Smoke over Nova Scotia firesNova Scotia officials said the fire’s burning in Shelburne County and about 50 homes have been destroyed. Dave Rockwood with the Nova Scotia Department of Natural Resources told reporters that the fire’s very fast-moving. He said about 5,000 people were evacuated, according to reports from the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP). A smaller fire near Halifax earlier burned about 200 homes and evacuated over 16,000 people.

According to an ALJAZEERA report, the fires were causing poor air quality hundreds of kilometers away, but federal help was coming — along with about 100 firefighters from the U.S. — after local authorities appealed for outside assistance. Canada’s federal government had already provided airlifts, aerial surveillance, crew comfort trailers, and food at the emergency shelters, said Sean Fraser, a cabinet minister and parliament member from Nova Scotia.

Firefighters in Nova Scotia

“We’re in a crisis in the province and we want and we need and we will take all the support we can get,” Nova Scotia Premier Tim Houston told a news conference on Wednesday. “Unprecedented resources are being used because these fires are unprecedented.” Additional resources have been shipped in from Ontario, and a dozen water bombers from neighboring regions and the Coast Guard have been engaged. Houston said he has also asked for military assistance.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau called the wildfires “heartbreaking” and promised unlimited support.


On Wednesday, Nova Scotia officials increased the fine for breaking the provincewide burn ban — a restriction on outdoor fires — to $25,000 CAD (almost $19,000 USD). Officials said rain is not forecasted for the region until Friday, and they remain unsure on when residents can return to their homes.

Collapsed bridge between Clyde River and Port Clyde in Nova Scotia.

Canada’s federal government announced today that it will be sending more resources to help Nova Scotia. This includes military personnel, as well as additional firefighters to help relieve those who have been working on the ground for days. More than 300 firefighters from the U.S. and South Africa are en route to Canada in the coming days. Some will be sent to Nova Scotia, while others are headed for Alberta.

Oldest know charred pine fossil found

The fossil of a pine tree was preserved as charcoal within rocks in Nova Scotia

From the BBC:


“The charred pine twigs date back 140 million years to a time when fires raged across large tracts of land. Pine trees now dominate the forests of the Northern Hemisphere.

fossilized pine twig
False color image of the fossilized pine twig that is a few milimeters long. Photo by H. Falcon-Lang.

The research suggests the tree’s evolution was shaped in the fiery landscape of the Cretaceous, where oxygen levels were much higher than today, fuelling intense and frequent wildfires.

“Pines are well adapted to fire today,” said Dr Howard Falcon-Lang of Royal Holloway, University of London, who discovered the fossils in Nova Scotia, Canada.

“The fossils show that wildfires raged through the earliest pine forests and probably shaped the evolution of this important tree.”

Serendipitous find
The specimens, which are described in Geology journal, were preserved as charcoal within rocks from a quarry.

“It was only when I digested [the samples] in acid that these beautiful fossils fell out,” Dr Falcon-Lang told BBC News.

“They were sitting in my cupboard for five years before I actually worked out what was there.”

Plant oddities
The fossils are just a few mm long but probably came from trees resembling the Scots Pine that now cover large areas of Scotland.

“One of the oddities about pine trees today is that they are one of the most fire adapted species on our planet,” explained Dr Falcon-Lang.

“These oldest pine fossils are preserved as charcoal, the product of fire, suggesting that the co-occurrence of fire and pines is something that’s very ancient, that goes back to the very origin of these first pine trees.”

Dr Falcon-Lang plans to return to the quarry this summer to recover more specimens.”

Thanks and a tip of the hat go out to Matthew.