Tuesday, May 28, 2024

‘The first line of defense is prevention’

Local municipalities ready to deal with potential wildfires

  • June 7 2023
  • By Corey LeBlanc    

GUYSBOROUGH COUNTY – With wildfires continuing to burn – although rainy weather and the tireless effort of firefighters have helped dampen the threat – in communities across the province, including in northeastern Nova Scotia, preparedness remains at its peak.

“The first line of defense is prevention,” Shawn Andrews – Municipality of the District of Guysborough (MODG) deputy chief administrative officer and emergency measures coordinator – told The Journal in a June 2 phone conversation.

That approach includes heeding continuing provincial requirements, including burn bans.

“Make sure you know when you are able to burn,” Andrews added of checking that information, which is updated daily.

As of press time, open fires across the province were prohibited. Breaking the ban now carries a $25,000 fine.

“It goes to show severe it is,” Andrews offered of the blanket approach, one he noted that the MODG fully supports.

He added, “They are for everyone’s protection.”

Even with precipitation in the forecast, Andrews predicted fire restrictions will be in effect for several weeks.

As for measures in place at the municipal level, as part of the MODG’s emergency management plan, there is an alert system that puts out the call for evacuation, when required. Andrews noted that – because it cannot interrupt broadcasts – residents should also remain tuned in for messages from the provincial system.

The wildfire situation of the past week to 10 days, he agreed, reiterates the importance of “being prepared to leave [your home] in moments,” including have court documents, clothing, personal items and pets close at hand. And, Andrews said, the guideline is to be prepared to be self-sufficient for at least 72 hours, even if an evacuation does not take place.

In the neighbouring Municipality of the District of St. Mary’s, Chief Administrative Officer Marissa Jordan said – in a June 1 email – that they have been monitoring the situation, including “reviewing daily information from the provincial coordination center through the provincial EMO.” She added that St. Mary’s emergency measures coordinator is “staying in contact with local fire departments to monitor all local wildfires that would have the potential to become out of control.”

“We will continue to share all provincial information including that relating to impacted air quality and restrictions on forestry related activities,” Jordan noted.

Municipal trails at Stonewall Park and the Port Bickerton Lighthouse are closed, which complies with the province’s order prohibiting any outdoor activities in forested areas.

Staying sharp

The Antigonish Town & County Emergency Measures Organization, under the leadership of coordinator Blaise MacDonald, oversees the process and steps taken during any potential disasters.

“It has given us time to take stock – we are ready to go,” Town of Antigonish Mayor Laurie Boucher said – in a June 5 joint phone conversation with Municipality of the County of Antigonish and The Journal – of the recent wildfires in other parts of the province.

She added, “We are very fortunate – we have worked well together,” of the collaborative effort, which not only includes the neighbouring municipal units, but also organizations such as StFX University and the RCMP.

Both municipal leaders commended MacDonald’s leadership, along with the roles senior staff and councillors take on, when it comes to emergency preparedness.

In recent years, McCarron noted, dealing with post-tropical storm Fiona, along with flooding in late 2021, were “great tests” for the municipal emergency response system.

MacDonald also leads periodic “table top” training sessions; in recent months, they have simulated responses not only to an overturned propane tank, but also a forest fire in James River.

Like their municipal counterparts in the region, Boucher and McCarron stressed the need to comply with provincial measures, including burning bans and prohibiting activities in wooded areas.

“It is critically important,” Boucher offered, noting the recent shutdown of wooded trails in Antigonish, such as The Landing.

McCarron explained that not heeding the bans – amongst other adverse effects – could be taxing on volunteers, such as firefighters, along with provincial natural resources and renewables personnel.

Like Andrews of the MODG, he noted that the recent events also provide a great reminder to have a collection of key items set aside, so people can “grab the essentials,” when a quick evacuation is required.

“There are so many little things [you can do],” he offered, such as homeowners taking the time to remove brush from their properties, creating a green space – of sorts – to help prevent any potential blazes.

Boucher added that the recent wildfires should remind everyone of the importance “to do our part” in trying to keep communities safe.

The gift of giving

The wildfire situation has also led to the postponement or cancellation of events, while some groups – such as the Sheet Harbour and Area Ground Search and Rescue (SHAGSAR) – made the best of an unforeseen situation.

The volunteer organization along the Eastern Shore was set to host the silver anniversary of its annual fishing derby fundraiser at Marshall Flowage Lake on Highway #374 on June 3, but the group decided to take the cautious approach and host another ‘no derby’ fishing derby; something that they offered to supporters during the COVID-19 global pandemic. Rather than speckled trout, the catch of the day became an opportunity for community members to view the SHAGSAR facilities, while enjoying plenty of great food and draws for raffle prizes.

As a prime example of how people across the province have rallied around their fellow Nova Scotians in need, SHAGSAR not only collected donations during the ‘no derby’ fishing derby, but also contributed half the proceeds from its 50-50 draw to the cause.

To make a donation to the Canadian Red Cross and its Atlantic Canada Fire Appeal, call 1-800-418-1111 or visit donate.redcross.ca.