HALIFAX, Nova Scotia (AP) — The largest wildfires ever recorded in Canada’s Atlantic Coast province of Nova Scotia continued to grow Thursday, forcing the evacuation of hundreds of more people and prompting air quality warnings in U.S. regions as far south as Virginia and Maryland.
In all, there were four wildfires in the province burning out of control on Thursday, including the massive Barrington Lake fire in Shelburne County, which grew to more than 200 square kilometers (77 square miles) despite a constant bombardment of water and fire retardant from a fleet of water bombers and air tankers.
A much smaller fire that started Wednesday received immediate attention after it prompted evacuations south of Shelburne, which is home to 1,300 people. Within hours, the local Roseway Hospital was evacuated and residents started preparing to leave.
“It jumped up pretty quick with the high winds, low (humidity) and high temperatures,” Dave Rockwood, a spokesman for the Department of Natural Resources, said Thursday in a briefing. “We are hitting it very hard and fast.”
The fires in Shelburne County have forced more than 5,000 people from their homes and cottages, 50 of which have been consumed by flames. Natural Resources Minister Tory Rushton said the Barrington Lake fire was under a “major aerial attack.”
Meanwhile, municipal officials in Halifax have begun breaking the news to residents whose homes were lost to a fast-moving wildfire after they were evacuated earlier this week from subdivisions northwest of the city.
Deputy fire Chief David Meldrum said an audit of damaged and destroyed properties had been completed, but he could not provide the latest numbers.
Fire officials said 200 structures, including 151 houses, have been claimed by the fire in suburban Halifax, which has been burning out of control since Sunday, as has the Barrington Lake fire. In all, 16,000 Halifax-area residents have been evacuated from their homes.
Earlier in the day, fire officials announced that 50% of the Halifax fire had been contained, and they confirmed it had not grown since Wednesday — but it remained out of control.
“We so far have no reported missing people or injuries,” Halifax Mayor Mike Savage said. “It is a miracle and a testament to the quick work of first responders.”
U.S. officials as far south as Maryland, Baltimore, Virginia and Pennsylvania reported being impacted by the Canadian wildfires.
The National Weather Service in Wakefield, Virginia, 164 miles (263 kilometers) south of Washington, D.C., issued an air quality alert for Friday for the Richmond, Virginia area due to smoke from wildfires across the northeast and Atlantic Canada.
St. Mary’s County Department of Emergency Services, located about 80 miles (129 km) south of Washington D.C., warned residents in a tweet on Thursday that air quality might be impacted by the fires in southeastern Canada.
In Pennsylvania, the Chester County Health Department said Thursday in a tweet that the “smoke & haze from wildfires in Canada continue to linger,” and warned the air could still be unhealthy for older adults, young children and people with respiratory problems.
Similar warnings were issued by the National Weather Service in Baltimore-Washington and the Philadelphia area, including parts of New Jersey, where officials warned sensitive groups to take precautions when going outside. A thick smoke plume was reported over Cape Cod, Massachusetts.
In southwestern Nova Scotia, the number of those displaced may not be as big, but the level of trepidation is just as high.
Amanda Sutherland, owner of The Cooper’s Inn in downtown Shelburne, said some of her staff have had to leave the area, and she has a number of evacuees from the Barrington Lake fire staying at the inn.
“People are checking in on other family members, and every morning at breakfast, there’s at least one person crying,” she said, adding that her bags are already packed in case an evacuation is ordered.
Sutherland said the town’s long, narrow harbor has been buzzing with water bombers scooping up water and heading back to the fires. She said she hasn’t spent much time worrying about the destruction.
Cooler temperatures and steady rain aren’t expected until late Friday, though the forecast was calling for some spotty showers during the day.