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Destructive Nova Scotia wildfires force thousands of Canadians to flee their homes

Smoke from the Tantallon wildfire rises over houses in nearby Bedford, Nova Scotia, Canada, on Sunday.
Eric Martyn
/
Reuters
Smoke from the Tantallon wildfire rises over houses in nearby Bedford, Nova Scotia, Canada, on Sunday.

Wildfires are continuing to burn across the Canadian province of Nova Scotia, scorching hundreds of buildings and forcing thousands of residents from their homes.

As of Tuesday afternoon, more than 16,000 people had evacuated from areas around the capital Halifax that were under an earlier mandatory evacuation order. No injuries or missing people had been reported.

Officials estimated that 200 homes or structures had been destroyed.

"The damage, it's extensive, it's heartbreaking," Nova Scotia Premier Tim Houston said in a news conference Tuesday afternoon.

Houston announced that authorities were temporarily banning activities and travel in Nova Scotia's woods, such as hiking, camping and fishing. A burn ban was also in effect.

"We're in a very serious situation in this province, and we need to take the steps we can to protect Nova Scotians," he said.

Thirteen fires were burning Tuesday afternoon, at least three of which were out of control, said Scott Tingley, manager of forest protection for the Department of Natural Resources and Renewables.

Crews were working to protect homes and other structures at risk of destruction but were overwhelmed by the growing number of fires, he said. Authorities were asking for help from other agencies to fight the blazes.

"These fires are beyond our resource capacity, and that's why we're prioritizing resources and that's why they remain out of control," Tingley said.

On Saturday, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau called the fires in Nova Scotia "incredibly serious" and said the federal government would provide any assistance needed.

"We're keeping everyone affected in our thoughts, and we're thanking those who are working hard to keep people safe," Trudeau said.

According to Tingley, the causes of the fires remained under investigation but all of them were "very likely" caused by humans, possibly accidentally.

Smoke from the wildfires was affecting visibility on some roads, and officials also warned it could be a danger to public health.

Environment Canada and the Nova Scotia Department of Health and Wellness issued a special air quality statement Tuesday, warning residents of the dangers of inhaling wildfire smoke, especially to already vulnerable people such as those with lung and heart disease.

Bob Robichaud, warning preparedness meteorologist with Environment and Climate Change Canada, said air quality can get worse overnight and into the early morning hours.

During those periods, people should limit their time outside and keep their doors and windows closed, Robichaud said.

Wildfires burning earlier this month in the Canadian province of Alberta and other areas produced so much smoke that it crossed into the U.S. and prompted air quality warnings in several states.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

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[Copyright 2024 NPR]