N.S. increases fine for violating burn orders to $25,000

Last spring's wildfire in Shelburne County was the largest in Nova Scotia's recorded history. (Communications Nova Scotia - image credit)
Last spring's wildfire in Shelburne County was the largest in Nova Scotia's recorded history. (Communications Nova Scotia - image credit)

A year after wildfires swept through parts of Nova Scotia, leaving a trail of destruction in their wake, the province is increasing the fine for violating daily burn restrictions for the duration of the season.

In a news release Thursday, the province said those found to be breaching the law will be fined $25,000, which will come to $28,872.50 after a victim surcharge fee and HST.

"Almost all wildfires in Nova Scotia are human caused. With the weather starting to get warmer and dryer, I cannot stress enough the importance of prevention," Premier Tim Houston said in the release.

"That's why we are doubling down on the fine for people who violate the daily burn restrictions ... let's not have another season like last year's."

Until Oct. 15, burning of any kind is prohibited across the province between 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. AT — even on days deemed the lowest risk for wildfires.

Depending on the status of the BurnSafe map, which is available online, burning may also be prohibited between 8 a.m. and 7 p.m. AT.


When the risk is highest, no burning will be permitted. This year, the province said the burn restrictions will also apply to campgrounds.

The burn map is updated daily at 2 p.m. AT. On Thursday, the entire map was coloured red, indicating that no domestic brush fires or campfires are allowed.

"It's not just a scare tactic. Our officers will be out and reviewing this," said Natural Resources Minister Tony Rushton.

"We're not trying to stop backyard recreational campfires during the season, we just need people to be responsible and follow the burn map."

Jim Rudderham, director of fleet and forest protection in Nova Scotia, told CBC's Maritime Noon on Thursday that woods around the province are dry.

He said dryness is measured using the province's weather station system, which begins recording data once all the snow is gone.

'Wildfire prevention is everyone's responsibility'

"It's a cumulative weather reading and the longer we have conditions that build for drying, the fuels get drier and drier and our weather system shows us that."

Rudderham said he's particularly concerned because of the upcoming long weekend and people may want to spend more time outside with open fires. He said he's hoping the higher fines will encourage people to check Nova Scotia's burn restriction map daily.

"Wildfire prevention is everyone's responsibility and we really want people to be motivated to check that it's safe to burn before they burn," he said.

Rudderham said in addition to open fires not being allowed when the burn restrictions map is red, fireworks are also not permitted.

"Fireworks fall under the office of the fire marshal, but a few years back they did tie that to our burn restriction system ... which in my opinion was a smart move to do," he said.

Marion and Peter Gillespie said they couldn't see the road because of the smoke and flames.
Marion and Peter Gillespie said they couldn't see the road because of the smoke and flames.

Flames from a fast-moving wildfire near Halifax destroyed homes and businesses last May. (Marion Gillespie)

As of May 12, Department of Natural Resources and Renewables staff have responded to 41 wildfires in Nova Scotia this year. They were all human caused. This compares to 138 wildfires for the same time period last year due to a dry winter and early spring.

Even though the numbers are lower, the department said in an email: "We are not out of the woods, so to speak. We can never predict what the rest of the season will be like."

The fine for violating burning restrictions was temporarily increased to $25,000 last season during a provincewide ban triggered by the large wildfires in the Tantallon area and in Shelburne County.

Burn ban charges last season

Four people were convicted of breaking the ban, although one fine was reduced in court to $237.50, said a spokesperson for the provincial government.

The basic fine for breaking a burn ban was previously $237.50, something the province said it may consider reinstating if conditions change to "dramatically reduce the risk of wildfires."

According to the province, conservation officers laid 100 charges for violations of daily burn restrictions in 2022, 2023 and so far in 2024. More charges may have been laid by police, but the province said it doesn't have those numbers.