Report on 2023 NS wildfires highlights strengths, areas for improvement

Following a year of unprecedented wildfires in Nova Scotia, the government has released a report detailing both successes and areas needing improvement for the upcoming wildfire season.

The Nova Scotia Wildfire After-Action Report for 2023 noted the effective coordination and execution of responses to the Barrington Lake and Tantallon wildfires by various bodies, including the Department of Natural Resources and Renewables, supported by government and non-government entities, as well as fire departments.

The report acknowledged the exceptional commitment shown by Department personnel, first responders, volunteers, and collaborating agencies, along with the willingness of provincial fire departments to offer their aid.

“Despite the challenges of the response due to the size and scope of the wildfires, there were many successful aspects of the response and early recovery that should be noted,” the report states. “While homes were lost and many hectares of land were burned, there were no lives lost and many homes were spared. Staff and volunteers worked tirelessly to provide support as needed and minimize the negative effects (sometimes in roles that were not their normal responsibility; decisions were made expeditiously to enable this).”

WATCH: A look back at Nova Scotia’s historic wildfire year

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The Department highlighted several opportunities for improvement, which include:

  • offer wildfire training and exercises more broadly across the province

  • train more Department staff in incident command management and other emergency-related functions

  • review and strengthen the Department’s response plans with clearer protocols, processes, roles and responsibilities

  • strengthen protocols related to the use of air support for wildfire response

  • improve mental and physical health supports for front-line workers.

The Department says it has already initiated several recommendations, such as launching a wildland firefighting training program in collaboration with the Fire Service Association of Nova Scotia. This initiative has resulted in an additional 60 trained firefighters prepared to assist if required.

To gear up for potentially severe wildfire seasons, the Department says it is taking further proactive measures, including upgrading equipment like hoses, pumps, power saws, and safety gear, replacing the current fleet of four helicopter water bombers, and exploring viable options for fixed -wing water bomber support.

Post-wildfire assessments, like the one for 2023, are regular procedures. Given the extensive impact of the fires last year, the Department engaged consultants from Calian Group Ltd. to produce an impartial report.

The complete 2023 Nova Scotia Wildfires After-Action Report is available for reference here.

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(Header image via Communications Nova Scotia: Annapolis Royal firefighters Jason Rock, left, and Anthony Lopiandowski, put out hotspots in the Birchtown area of ​​Shelburne County in June 2023.)