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Rain showers not always enough to end burn ban, fire crews say

Fire can be seen on the shore of Panuke Lake on Wednesday. - Tracy Wentzell Silver

A forest fire on the shore of Panuke Lake in Halifax County is now contained, but Lands and Forestry officials say people shouldn’t be fooled by the scattered and often relatively brief rain showers that have come over the province recently. 

The fire was reported on the western shoreline of the lake, which stretches from Three Mile Plains in Hants County to border of Halifax and Lunenburg counties.

Scott Tingley, the acting manager of forest protection for the province’s Department of Lands and Forestry, said Thursday that the fire was contained to about a hectare.

He said a department helicopter kept the fire at bay after it was spotted Wednesday afternoon, before picking up ground crews from the nearest accessible woods road and flying them closer.

“It wasn’t moving fast or aggressively,” Tingley said. “It was spreading, it certainly was growing, but it was on a jut of land out into the water and (the pilot) was able to contain it by (dropping water from the bucket).”

The fire burned in an area of mixed forest, but remained on the ground and didn’t climb into the trees. 

Tingley said it’s too soon to say what the cause was. The fire was reported by both an Air Canada flight and people along Highway 103.

Crews were back at the site Thursday morning looking for hot spots, but went by boat because the cloud cover was too low for the chopper to operate.

The four closest weather stations to the site recorded between 1mm and 8 mm of rain overnight Wednesday, which Tingley said would help, but the site will require further patrols.

“We were hoping for a bigger soaking,” he said. 

The forest fire indices in several categories were still high and growing Wednesday, crews will be back later this week to recheck the fire area.

“With the (levels) we were getting up to, you definitely want to take your time,” Tingley said. “The fires are a little more persistent and burn deeper, so they want to take that extra time and caution to make sure they’re digging it all up and soaking it down really well before declaring it out.”

That’s why people shouldn’t assume that any rain will have changed the fire ban in the province, along with the fact that a heavy rain shower in one community doesn’t mean it rained enough there, or at all in a neighbouring area.

“The rain we have been getting has been in the form of showers, we haven’t had any widespread rain events for quite a while now,” Tingley said. “We set the burn restrictions on a county-by-county basis, and we use our weather stations to make the decision on restrictions. The rain has been light to moderate, and haven’t had a big impact on the indices.”

That means a county can be declared under a total burn ban even if one area of it gets soaked.

“Some people might have rain over their house, but our weather station didn’t get it or the the same amount, or didn’t get enough for a long enough duration,” Tingley said.

He said it’s not just a matter of the ground getting wet, it has to soak in.

“We need significant enough amounts now to get deep enough now, because the fuels are drying out deeper and deeper.”

Another fire broke out Wednesday afternoon in the Jordan Lake area of Shelburne County, which was also contained to about a hectare.

Southwestern Nova Scotia from Kings and Lunenburg counties to Yarmouth remained under a total fire ban Thursday, along with Cumberland and Antigonish counties. The rest of the province was cleared for burning after 7 p.m., subject to local municipal bylaws.

RELATED: Forest fire burning Panuke Lake

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