Lowest wildfires numbers since 1940s recorded in N.S. this year
The summer of 2019 was hot. And dry. But despite that, the province saw its lowest number of wildfires in more than 70 years.
There were 143 fires across the province this year, the fewest since there were 110 in 1948, statistics from the province's Department of Lands and Forestry show.
The low number was due in large part to the wet spring and then the humid summer, said Kara McCurdy, the department's fire prevention officer.
“It doesn't really matter how cool it is, it can be really cool outside and dry, and fires will spread,” she said. "Low humidity and high wind will mean a better chance of fire spread, but high humidity and low wind means it's not really going to go anywhere.”
And that was what much of the summer was like.
“It certainly had potential this year for fires to happen. It was dry pretty much from July onward,” she said.
“We do have fires in the fall, but what we have on our side is that the days are shorter. It's cooling down and humidity is going up at night, we're getting frost, we're getting dew on the grass, so we don't have as many fires.”
The fires this year didn't spread far, for the most part.
“What’s really significant is the area burned,” McCurdy said. "We had 154 hectares burn this year, which is basically one hectare per fire.”
The largest fire was in Shelburne County, and burned 19 hectares.
Most of the fires burned open areas. About 94 hectares of the land burned was in boggy areas, alders and open grass, 24 were in softwood, 15 in mixed forest, 11 were clear cut areas and nine were in hardwood stands.
“That's unusual, because we normally get a real mix and a lot of softwood stands, but those numbers were fairly low,” McCurdy said.
As has been the case for years, the top cause of forest fires was human activity such as illegal burning, arson and poorly extinguished campfires.
While there is usually at least one fire caused every year by a lightning strike, there were none this year, McCurdy said.
“We did see an increase in campfire-related fires. The interesting thing about (those) is that they’re happening in remote areas. That’s scary, because they’re harder to get at.”
Some of those fires this year included along lake edges, in wilderness areas and back country.
“It’s concerning that there are folks going out there having campfires and not properly putting them out,” McCurdy said. “We want to make sure people know that if they're going to have a campfire, you have to make sure it is out by making it cold to the touch.”
Of the fires, 116 were on private land, 24 on Crown land, and one each on First Nations property, a provincial park and a wilderness area.
The bulk of the fires — 135 — happened during times when burning was not permitted.
The department has a web page that indicates when burning is allowed.
“I'm not so sure it's a matter of people not paying attention to the site,” McCurdy said because the page is one of the most visited on the province's servers.
“I think it's just the awareness
... some folks aren't quite used to the new system yet,” she said.
She said the reduced fire numbers could also be connected to people using the map and understanding when they can burn.
The fire season in the province runs from March 15 to Oct. 15 every year.
A fire can be seen in the woods on the shore of Panuke Lake in West Hants on Aug. 21.