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Nova Scotia wildfires almost all preventable ‘if people just thought’

May 22 2015

Dept. of Natural Resources says it costs millions of dollars to fight those fires

By Elizabeth McMillan, CBC News Posted: May 22

People start 99 per cent of Nova Scotia's forest fires and it's costing millions of dollars to put them out, the Department of Natural Resources says. 

The department said pretty much every brush fire fought in the province last year was started by people, which is a much higher percentage than across the country.

"Either through error, or carelessness or downright arson. I get from that that people don't really understand the risks of lighting a fire outside," says Jim Ruddderham, supervisor of wildfire management for the province.

'People don't really understand the risks of lighting a fire outside.'- Jim Ruddderham

The province forbids brush burning before 2 p.m. every day. This week there have been burning restrictions in several counties. Annually, fighting wildfires costs the province an average of $1 million.

"We put a lot of people out there suppressing these fires in harm's way," Ruddderham says. "If people just thought for a minute, we could save a lot of time and effort and danger for these other people."

He says despite the public warnings, people may not be aware of how quickly even a campfire can get out of hand. Others, he says, likely know what they're doing.

"Cape Breton has a particular arson problem. There seems to be a culture there in some places of lighting fires."

Fire crews don't leave them to burn because they're often close to communities.

"We couldn't justify letting a fire go. It's going to get to someone's home eventually," says Rudderham.

DNR says nationally, about 50 per cent of wildfires are started by people. "Humans play a much larger role in driving fire patterns in southern forests," says Martin Giradin, a research scientist with the Canadian Forest Service.

Few natural fires

Nova Scotia forests are near the coast and populated mostly by spruce and pine trees, which makes for fewer fires started naturally by lightning strikes.

Kerry Anderson of the Canadian Forest Service says wildfires are no longer a central part of Nova Scotia's natural cycle as they are in wildernesses in other regions.

In the boreal forest — which stretches from northern Newfoundland and Labrador to Yukon — conifers rely on wildfires for regeneration. Some cones won't open until they're exposed to heat. Wildfires also often spread to the canopy, eliminating the competition for trees that can't thrive in shaded areas.     

Ruddderham says Parks Canada does some controlled burns in the province to help with regeneration, but they are the exception.

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