News / Halifax

Nova Scotia imposes travel ban to keep people out of woods as wildfires burn

With wildfires burning in the province, the government is taking the extraordinary step of preventing the public from traveling in woods in Nova Scotia.

Smoke billows over Pat Kempton Lake from the Seven Mile Lake fire Monday evening.

Contributed/Communications Nova Scotia

Smoke billows over Pat Kempton Lake from the Seven Mile Lake fire Monday evening.

An unusual ban on traveling in the woods means Haligonians have to stick to open areas as wildfires continue to burn.

Starting noon on Tuesday, all hiking, camping, fishing and off-road vehicle use is restricted in provincial parks, crown lands and wilderness areas in Nova Scotia - meaning locals must avoid all trail systems in wooded areas like Blue Mountain Birch Cove or the Bluffs in Timberlea.

“We just don’t want people to get farther along into the woods in a trail ... that’s potentially unsafe if there’s a fire,” Walter Fanning, executive director of the regional services branch of Department of Natural Resrources, said Monday.

However, Fanning said most beaches and lakes are okay to visit if they’re easily accessible from a road or parking lot, such as Dollar Lake park in the Musquodoboit Valley.

Two wildfires in Annapolis and Queens counties are now contained, while a third at Seven Mile Lake in Annapolis County has not been contained but grown to 140 hectares.

HRM spokesman Brendan Elliott said they are monitoring the situation, but right now no restrictions on municipal parks or beaches will be imposed, meaning areas like Point Pleasant Park can be used.

Elliott clarified on Tuesday that all HRM trails on provincial lands are closed, which includes St. Margaret’s Bay, Beechville, Lakeside, Timberlea (BLT), Sackville Lakes Provincial Park, Shearwater Flyer, Salt Marsh, and Atlanticview.

The active transportation trails on municipal land, primarily Chain of Lakes and Mainland Linear, will not be closed at this time, Elliott said, but added smoking is prohibited in all HRM parks and trails.

You can front-country camp at private and provincial campgrounds, but there is still an HRM municipal fire ban on, so no s’mores.

The conditions are the driest they’ve been in 15 years, with a small fire flaring up on the BLT trail Monday afternoon that was quickly put out by firefighters. Natural Resources Minister Lloyd Hines said all HRM residents must the issue seriously even if the wildfires haven’t come close yet.

“We had a very significant fire in Porters Lake not too long ago, and a devastating one in Spryfield ... fire doesn’t discriminate,” Hines said in an interview.

“We just need to get everybody’s cooperation to try and fend it off as best we can.”

Woods restriction details

The travel ban – which does not apply to provincial and private campgrounds and beaches – will become effective at noon on Tuesday, and will last for two weeks. If there is any significant rainfall during that time the ban may come off sooner, but Natural Resources Minister Lloyd Hines noted the forecast is not working in the province’s favour.

The travel restriction applies to the entire province, Hines said, because with limited firefighting resources officials cannot risk wildfires starting up in other parts of the province.

This past weekend, three wildfires were being fought in western Nova Scotia: two in Annapolis Valley and one in Queens County. Wildfires in Maitland Bridge Cand Greenfield are now contained and mapped at about 21 hectares and five hectares respectively, DNR said in a release. The most serious of those fires is the Seven Mile Lake fire in Annapolis County, which was 90 hectares on the weekend, but has since increased in size to around 140 hectares due to winds.

The province has had burning restrictions in place to address the dry conditions; it is now taking things a step further with this travel restriction.

“We’ve had great success with our citizens in the province who understand the situation. We are asking them for help and understanding and cooperation in this process,” the minister said.

The public, he said, has to not only be co-operative with the situation, but accountable as well.

If you are the owner of a cottage or camp, you are permitted to access what is on your property. But if you need to cross someone else’s property to access your own, than you need permission from the landowner whose property you must cross.

But if you want to visit tourist attractions such as Balancing Rock or Cape Split and you need to trek through the woods to get to them, then you’re out of luck.

Hiking trails in woods are off limits.

If you can access a beach from a parking lot, you’re good. If you have to travel through the woods to get to one, you’ll have to find another beach.

The minister said he recognizes this is an inconvenience, but he said there are still lots of other attractions that people, both Nova Scotians and tourists, can visit.

As for policing the restrictions, there will be warnings issued if people don’t adhere to the rules. Repeat offenders would be fined, although the province did not have information on how much the fines would be or who would be policing the enforcement.

The minister is hopeful that people will understand the need for the restriction. He said the province, as a whole, hasn’t been this dry in about 15 years, which was the last time a travel restriction like this one was imposed.

Hines said the restriction also speaks to safety, in that if people were deep in the woods and a wildfire were to start up, it may be hard to reach them.

DNR staff and volunteer firefighters within Nova Scotia and waterbombers from outside of the province have been fighting the fires. Hines said if more fires were to break out in Nova Scotia the province would have to seek firefighting resources from outside of the province.

Walter Fanning, executive director of the regional services branch of DNR, noted crews have been working from daybreak to nightfall fighting the fires. They are tired, he said, but they are holding up.

The province says the ultimate idea behind the restriction is if there are less people in the forests, it reduces the likelihood of unintentional ignition of fires.

Hines said those who conduct commercial activity on crown land will require permits to do so, which can be obtained from local Natural Resources offices. Hunters and fishers would also require travel permits.

Hines thanked forestry companies who have moved work to nighttime hours, which is between 8 p.m. and 10 a.m. He encourages all companies and private landowners to take this approach.

"Our industry recognizes this situation requires the co-operation of everyone who uses our province's forests," said Jeff Bishop, executive director of Forest Nova Scotia. "We've asked our members to shift work to overnight to do our best to prevent any wildfires."

It is very expensive to fight wildfires, it was noted during the media briefing. The minister said the cost to the province can range up to $200,000 a day. -TC Media

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