Wildfire suppression (fighting wildfires)

Wildfire detection

To report a wildfire or violations of the fire restrictions , call 1-800-565-2224 or 911. Give important details like:

  • where is the fire (civic address, county, community name, other location information)
  • what time did you see the fire
  • what is burning, are there trees, shrubs or grass burning and are there structures like homes burning
  • how big is the fire (is it small like a soccer field or is it big like a forest)
  • How fast is it moving (can you walk or run faster than it)
  • what colour is the smoke (is it white, gray, black or yellow)
  • who is on scene (are there emergency crews, witnesses and vehicles)
  • is anything at risk (are there people, houses, buildings or sheds at risk)

During periods of high to extreme risk for wildfire, the department does aerial surveillance to detect wildfires. The aircraft are equipped with GPS locators. When smoke is spotted, GPS data tells staff in the Provincial Wildfire Control Centre exactly where the wildfire is. The pilot shares information about the fire size, the type of fuels burning, any values that might be threatened and if there is any suspicious activity around the fire. This information helps staff plan the response to the wildfire.

Wildfire suppression

When a wildfire is detected, the average response time in Nova Scotia is 20 minutes. Often local fire departments are first on the scene.

A small fire may only require the services of two people and minimal equipment. A larger fire (15+ kms in length) can require hundreds of people and lots of equipment.

Some fires can require a coordinated effort between several agencies including Natural Resources and Renewables, local fire departments, police, Emergency Health Services, the Emergency Management Office and people in the forestry sector.

Firefighters aim to establish a control line around the fire as soon as possible, cool down open flames that are closest to the edge, and separate burning fuels (trees, shrubs, moss etc) from unburnt fuels. The most common method is to apply water pumped through a hose line from a fire truck or portable pump.

When a wildfire moves too fast or is too intense for firefighters to safely work on the ground, aircraft drop water on the fire until it has slowed or cooled down enough for ground crews to resume their efforts.

Once a fire is under control, it is possible for a fire to burn below ground without showing any signs on the surface. It can take weeks to find and extinguish all the hot spots to prevent flare ups.

Fire equipment and crews

The department has four Airbus H-125 helicopters stationed in Shubenacadie. From there, they can reach any location in Nova Scotia in less than 2 hours.

The helicopters can perform many functions such as transporting people and equipment, dropping water and helping with reconnaissance efforts. They can carry 4 people plus equipment. A water bucket can be attached to drop 1477 litres (325 gallons) of water or foam at time.

These aircraft are very versatile. They can hover and scoop water from anywhere their rotors can safely spin, including very small water bodies such as ponds. While they carry less water than fixed wing aircraft, they can scoop and dump loads of water on a much faster rotation and therefore drop a greater volume over time.

The department has access to about 300 wildland firefighters around the province. Many are hired on a seasonal basis each year. All wildland firefighters must pass a minimum physical fitness test which entails walking 2 miles while wearing a 25-pound weighted vest.

Nova Scotia is a member of the Canadian Interagency Forest Fire Centre and the Northeast Forest Fire Protection Commission which facilitates the sharing of resources between different provinces and internationally. Through this organization, the department can request equipment and crews from other places or sends these resources to other places when they need help. To serve in other places, crew members must be part of the Sustained Action Team and complete the Canadian Physical Performance Exchange Standard for Type 1 Wildland Fire Fighters.

Firefighter training

The department trains firefighters in basic wildfire suppression. As the level of responsibility increases, so does the level of training. Staff may also receive training through national and international agencies. Upon request, the department also provides wildfire training to municipal fire departments, the forest sector and community college students.

Basic Forest Fire Suppression Course