Nova Scotia

Environment Canada warns of high levels of air pollution amid multiple wildfires in western N.S.

Environment Canada is warning of elevated levels of air pollution for most of western Nova Scotia as multiple wildfires continue to burn in the area.

Lands and Forestry have responded to at least 16 fires since Wednesday

Officials said the wildfire in the Pubnico-Argyle area is still 50 per cent contained and covers 15 hectares as of Saturday afternoon. (Nova Scotia Department of Lands and Forestry)

Environment Canada is warning of elevated levels of air pollution for most of western Nova Scotia as multiple wildfires continue to burn in the area.

The weather agency issued the special air quality statement for Yarmouth, Digby, Shelburne, Annapolis, Queens and Lunenburg counties early Saturday.

Scott Tingley, manager of forest protection with Nova Scotia's Department of Lands and Forestry, said crews have responded to at least 16 fires since Wednesday.

"We've had quite a number of fires in the last three days. Some of those have been lightning-caused fires, some human caused,' Tingley said.

As of Saturday evening, Tingley said crews were dealing with two fires that are considered out of control.

He said the fire at Saturday Lake is still considered out of control, but is 70 per cent contained. The fire in Arygle, Yarmouth County is also considered out of control, but it is 50 per cent contained.

Tingley said he is aware of six other fires, but all relatively small and not expected to grow because crews contained a line around them, he said.

Dry conditions, remote locations

One of the biggest challenges in fighting these fires, he said, is the dryness.

"We've had such prolonged periods without rain ... the fire is burning deep and that makes it harder to extinguish them," he said.

Another challenge has been the remoteness of some of the fires. He said Lands and Forestry were helped out by New Brunswick air tankers in getting some of the fires under control.

He said Nova Scotia had a higher than normal fire load this summer, but he said crews have had "pretty good success" in containing the fires because of the "quick response and co-ordinated staff on each of these fires." 

"We had some lightning go through a few days ago and unfortunately there are instances where folks are having camp fires and burning in their yards or even out in wilderness areas. It shows the potential of what can happen in these types of conditions," he said.

9 suspicious fires

Just after 4 p.m., Nova Scotia RCMP tweeted Highway 103 was closed between Exit 31 and Exit 32 due to a forest fire. Police are asking people to avoid the area.

RCMP also issued a news release on Saturday stating they are investigating nine recent suspicious fires on uninhabited forested areas that occurred within approximately 100 square metres on Leary Fraser Rd. in Oakhill, Lunenburg County.

Since Thursday, RCMP say they have been called out to investigate these fires along with the Oakhill and District Fire Department, Nova Scotia Power and the Department of Lands and Forestry.

"The investigation determined the fires to be suspicious in nature," police say. "No one was injured as a result of the fires."

Tips can be shared directly with Lunenburg District RCMP at 902-634-8674 and anonymous tips can be made by calling Nova Scotia Crime Stoppers at 1-800-222-8477.

A new fire popped up Saturday morning near River Hebert in Cumberland County, according to Lands and Forestry. Staff, a helicopter and a bulldozer are responding.

Environment Canada said smoke plumes from the forest fires near the Pubnico-Argyle area, Lake Alma and Saturday Lake are likely to remain in the area due to light winds. 

The agency said a southerly wind is expected to pick up later Saturday, moving the smoke northward. Air quality may deteriorate if the smoke descends to the ground.

Environment Canada said individuals may experience increased coughing, throat irritation, headaches or shortness of breath. Children, seniors and those with respiratory problems are especially at risk in the area.

The weather agency said forecasted rain is expected to improve the situation by Sunday morning. Tingley said he's hoping the rain will help with firefighting efforts.

All of mainland Nova Scotia is currently under a burn ban due to the dry weather.

With files from Melissa Friedman

now