Residents watch with dread as N.S.'s largest forest fire continues to rage in Shelburne County
RCMP Cpl. Chris Marshall said so far, about 3,200 homes have been evacuated
Residents of Shelburne County, N.S., continue to deal with growing forest fires in the southwestern region of the province that have displaced thousands of people.
The main fire near Barrington Lake — the largest in the province's recorded history — has grown to more than 20,000 hectares in size, while a smaller fire to the northeast near Lake Road is at about 120 hectares.
In a news update on Thursday, RCMP Cpl. Chris Marshall said so far, about 3,200 homes have been evacuated, displacing 6,700 people — about 50 per cent of Shelburne County's population.
Natasha Poirier and her mother, Jocelyne Poirier, live in Roseway, N.S., and have had to evacuate. The past few days have been "very emotional," Natasha Poirier said.
"You get a very tiny sense of what refugees feel like," she added. "You're displaced."
While she and her family have been able to get assistance in finding lodging from the Red Cross, she's concerned about the size of the response to the fire in Shelburne County, compared to the blaze in the suburbs outside of Halifax.
"We're such a small community and everybody is going toward Halifax," Natasha Poirier said. "I understand it's a higher population, but this is a huge fire and it's not getting any better.
"We need more resources, we need more people," she continued. "It's like they forgot us down here."
'No hope of rebuilding a harvester,' says farmer
Peter Sutherland said he was just starting to see a profit from a 28-hectare blueberry farm he's spent the last 10 years working on when the fire destroyed some of his farming equipment, including a $200,000 harvester.
"It takes a long time to develop a wild blueberry farm," Sutherland said. "Hope I have a crop still, but I've got no hope of rebuilding a harvester this year. I'll have to try and rent one. I hope within the year, if I get enough insurance money, I can have it back again."
He first heard news of the fire on Sunday when it was focused near Barrington Lake. It was later on when he noticed fire closer to his blueberry farm when he decided to move some of his equipment, including an excavator and skidder, to gravel pits on his property.
While he was moving equipment to safer areas of the farm, he said he was approached by RCMP officers who told him a mandatory evacuation notice had been issued and he needed to leave, or he would be arrested.
"That was the last I've seen of my blueberry farm," he said. "I got reports that, yeah, a lot of my equipment had burned. And I said, 'yeah, probably the stuff that I didn't get to move.'"
Thankfully, he said, his home wasn't damaged by the fire, but he's still waiting on information about his farm, as well as the 16 beehives he has on his property.
Sutherland said, "I'd love to go back and use some of my equipment to help out and put out spot fires, so the fire trucks can water them down.
"I know it's going to take a long time to get to, but I can't get nowhere and it's frustrating."
Possible aid for farmers from federal government
On Wednesday, Premier Tim Houston told reporters that in a letter to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, he made a list of requests for help with the fire and its aftermath, including financial aid for farmers.
Greg Morrow, provincial agriculture minister, said Thursday some of that aid would help cover costs to restart farms in evacuated areas, loss of income, relocation and loss of livestock, among other costs.
"These aren't necessarily large agricultural areas, but every farm in the province is important," Morrow told reporters. "They put food on our tables and contribute to the economy, so we want to make sure that we're there to help every farm."
There's no timeline on when a possible farm aid program will roll out, but Morrow said the province is looking to offer support to affected farmers "as soon as possible."
With files from Héloïse Rodriguez-Qizilbash, Kayla Hounsell, Jean Laroche and Danielle Edwards