For years now we have witnessed wildfires raging across the parched Western landscape. Weather anomalies have been accentuated by climate change and we’ve watched with horror as vast acres have burned and countless homes have been destroyed.
But, at least for those of us in the northeast, this has usually been a faraway drama, playing out in news footage or in reports we receive from friends and relatives who have moved to the West Coast. That, certainly, has been my reality.
Those of you who have followed these posts over the years know that Blythe and I take an annual trip to Nova Scotia where her family has had a rural homestead for generations—a place filled with many memories and even more dreams. Now, as wildfires rage at an unprecedented level in the province, the remote drama we’ve been witnessing in the American West has hit perilously close to home. More acreage has burned in Nova Scotia over the past few weeks than in the years 2016-2021 combined. And the path of one of the largest fires—the Barrington Lake blaze that still burns out of control and has consumed more than 50,000 acres—has been heading directly toward our home (see arrow on the map below).
The Guardian states, “As of Wednesday, more than 20,000 hectares of the Maritime province were burning from 13 wildfires, including three fires considered out of control. More than 18,000 people remain under an evacuation order outside Halifax, the region’s largest city. More than 200 structures, the majority of which are homes, have been destroyed by the fire. No fatalities have been recorded.
“For a province that typically measures the total amount of the region burned in hundreds of hectares, the record-breaking Barrington Lake blaze, stretching more than 20,000 hectares and still growing, has pushed Nova Scotia’s scarce resources to the brink. The largest ever fire recorded in Nova Scotia was in 1976 and measured 13,000 hectares.”
Our back deck faces the coast, creating an idyllic setting for enjoying nature’s beauty, reading, writing or simply relaxing. But what this view doesn’t quite reveal is that just steps away from our front door, is a thicket of balsam fir, scrubby pine trees and brambles of wild raisin, false holly, foxberry and mountain-ash. This mix makes for a fuel-filled feast for wildfires. When abetted by dry weather and low humidity and pushed by high winds, the combination makes for a most combustible mix that can race across the landscape in record-setting time.
Our place in the small seaside village of Roseway lies in the middle of an evacuation zone. Roads are closed and no one is allowed in or out. Getting accurate information from this remote location is difficult at best and we are unsure if the fire has spread to our home or has hopscotched over Roseway and moved on. The nearest large town, Shelburne, lies to our north—the opposite direction from which the fire is advancing, but it too has recently come under an evacuation order. The hardest part is…
This moment has given me a new appreciation of the level of stress experienced by folks in our nation’s drought-ridden West (despite the torrential rains of this past winter) while waiting and wondering if disaster awaits their return home. More generically, it has deepened my empathy for those who wait (often helplessly) for news about personal trials—an approaching hurricane, a report on a cancer diagnosis, information about a missing loved one, news about casualties from a mass shooting—as well as those who anticipate lasting change—for a family member trapped in addiction, for an end to the generational cycle of poverty, for peace amidst the relentless violence in Ukraine.
We will visit Nova Scotia in a little over a week and will learn first-hand of the fate of our little corner of paradise in that Canadian province. I will report back as news becomes available. In the meantime, prayers and good wishes are coveted—not just for our place, but for all those who lives and livelihoods have been threatened across the province, and for those brave and selfless firefighters who come to their assistance.