Nova Scotia

Crews pulled out of fighting western Nova Scotia forest fire

Extremely dry conditions and gusting winds have forced the province to pull crews out of a growing forest fire in western Nova Scotia.

20 kms of Trunk 8, near Maitland Bridge, is closed due to water bombers in the area

One of three helicopters working Monday slings water that it will drop on a nearby forest fire. (Shaina Luck/CBC)

Extremely dry conditions and gusting winds have forced the province to pull crews out of a growing forest fire in western Nova Scotia.

A fire near Seven Mile Lake in Annapolis County has burned about 140 hectares since last week and is still considered out of control.

"I think it has increased a little bit but they're not sure how much," Department of National Resources forest spokesman Jim Rudderham said later Monday afternoon.

"But the crews were removed for safety."

Fire damaged this area near the Mersey River, N.S., on Saturday morning. (Stefan Ostermeyer)

Highway 8 closed

The fire has expanded along Highway 8, which likely will be closed all night, he said. Firefighting teams will reassess this evening, and be "back at it tomorrow morning with new tactics to try to get this thing contained."

"We realize closing that highway is a major inconvenience but we're doing it for safety, for everybody," Rudderham said.

"The visibility with the smoke and then our water bombers going over top of that highway, that's why it's being closed. 

'Biting and clawing for every inch'

Earlier Monday, DNR's David Steeves said crews were fighting the fire as "aggressively as they can" 

High winds have caused "some setbacks" and the forest floor is tinder dry, he said.

"That's causing some pretty significant spread rates for our firefighters on the ground and making for a very dangerous situation," he said.

"We're biting and clawing for every inch out here. But we'll prevail. It's probably going take us quite a while."  

Building a fire line

Dozens of people — including department staff, volunteer firefighters and heavy equipment operators — were trying to contain the fire, which Steeves said grew overnight Sunday. Water bombers doused the fire from above on Monday afternoon.

"They're taking the heat out of the flame front so that our ground crews can come in and make an effort to actually suppress the fire," he said. 

Crews were also using heavy equipment to build a fire line.

"They're taking away the fuels from the forest floor so that the fire can't progress past that point."

Exhausted crews

Many firefighters have been on the ground since Thursday. Though they're tired, morale is high and they're confident they can make progress, Steeves said. 

David Lohnes, a fire captain with the North Queens Volunteer Fire Department, says a Maitland Bridge fire that burned about 21 hectares of land is now mostly hot spots, with crews building a fire guard around the perimeter.

A third fire in Greenfield in Queens County that covered about five hectares is also considered contained.

A fire near Seven Mile Lake in Annapolis County has burned about 140 hectares since last week. Fires in Maitland Bridge and Greenfield are still burning but considered contained. (CBC News Graphics)

"It's very fluid, very dynamic, it can change from one second to the next. The slightest change in weather or topography calls for a total change in tactics," Steeves said.

The Minister of Natural Resources says it's been costing up to $200,000 a day to fight the three fires. As a result of the ongoing risk of more fires, he's restricting hiking, camping and fishing in forests across the province.

Some fire fighters have been battling the fires since Thursday evening but the Department of Natural Resources says morale is still high. (Shaina Luck/CBC)

Road closed

On Monday morning, the Department of Transportation closed a 20-kilometre section of Trunk 8, near Maitland Bridge north of Kejimkujik National Park, due to crews dropping water from the air. 

The same road was closed intermittently over the weekend with the department warning drivers that smoke in the area was causing foggy conditions.

Trunk 8 was closed on and off on the weekend, and traffic north of Keji was down to one lane at times. (Shaina Luck)

'People are really pulling together'

A local restaurant near Kejimkujik has halted regular service to help feed crews working to contain the fires.

"They asked us and really, how could we say no," said Shannon MacDougall, who co-owns the Wilder Restaurant & General Store in Caledonia. 

"They're working so hard to put these fires out and with the winds changing and things as dry as they are, it would be so incredibly unkind of us not to do anything that we could."

Sunday the Wilder restaurant served three meals to 90 firefighters. (Shannon MacDougall)

Donations coming in

On Sunday, the Wilder served three meals to 90 firefighters. MacDougall said they expect to do the same on Monday. The Department of Natural Resources will cover the cost of the meals.

As well, people from across the province have been dropping off donations for firefighters, such as homemade donuts and barbecued burgers.

Firefighters have also been making use of a pond beside The Wilder General Store.

"Our pond is pump truck central where the trucks are drawing water to fight the fire," said MacDougall. 

Extreme fire warning

Parks Canada closed Kejimkujik National Park's back country on Monday afternoon. More than a dozen parties currently in the woods will be asked to leave and head to the front country section, a spokesperson said.

Parks Canada is advising campers that air tankers were refilling in Kejimkujik Lake between Fairy Bay and West River.

Due to the dry conditions, a fire ban remains in effect at the park. 

Parks Canada is advising there is an extreme fire risk in Kejimkujik National Park and campers are prohibited from having campfires or even lighting candles. (Shaina Luck/CBC)

With files from the CBC's Shaina Luck, Katy Parsons and Melissa Oakley