”It’s difficult to drive through our communities, seeing constant reminders of the devastation from the wildfire,” Warden Penny Smith says. “While it takes time to rebuild, the support for our families, friends and neighbours is unwavering.”

At the end of May, wildfires swept through Shelburne County, burning about 23,379 hectares of land. As a result, about 50 per cent of Shelburne County was evacuated – approximately 6,700 people. A state of emergency was declared and 60 homes were lost in the fires, with many more sustaining serious damage.

Beyond local fire departments, 67 fire departments were called in to take shifts to help control the blaze. Water bombers from Newfoundland and the United States were brought in to help out as well.

Heidi Wagner, Executive Director of CBDC Shelburne and a local municipal councillor, knew she had to do everything in her power to help her community. The small but mighty team at the CBDC office in Shelburne closed their doors to go out into their community and help those in need.

“When the call came out – we’re only a small staff of three – we decided that we could help, by going to assist in making the meals, serving the breakfasts, preparing foods, getting lunch boxes made, that sort of thing.

“Half the businesses in Shelburne shut down,” Heidi sighs. “Support calls came in to the CBDC – people were asking if anything was needed – donations, volunteers. We’d go back and forth, checking the office phones every few hours to make sure we were available if our clients needed us. We did that for about 11 days.”

On July 26th, the largest wildfire in Nova Scotia’s history was declared officially out and fire department crews returned home.

“Initially, I’d seen the smoke come up off the 103,” EMO Coordinator Mike Shand remembers. “Shortly thereafter, we got a mutual aid call. That’s when we realized the scope of what this was … it grew incredibly fast in 24 hours. I’ve never seen anything like this.”

While the intensity and duration of the fires sent shockwaves through the community, there was something else that came as a surprise during the crisis.

“It was quite overwhelming,” Warden Penny Smith says. “The level of love and support was pretty amazing.”

In the face of a devastating emergency that drove many from their homes and businesses, Shelburne County and surrounding communities quickly rallied to volunteer, donate and ensure displaced folks had places to stay and three square meals a day.

“The community really came together,” Heidi recalls. “Within 24 hours, we were up and running. We delivered more than 300 meals a day. It was all donation driven – and always good, hearty meals – fish cakes, stews. We even got donations of $3,000 in gift cards to buy food!” A meal distribution centre was set up at the Birchtown Community Centre and a group of volunteers gathered at 7am and stayed until 9pm.

Mike was blown away by the level of support Shelburne County received during that time. “The volume of volunteers that came in was unbelievable – from Red Cross to the surrounding community,” he says. “A guy drove down from Cape Breton with a van load of water. People from everywhere – just regular people – were helping out.”

Volunteers at the community centre served meals to displaced locals, as well as firefighters and first responders working tirelessly to put out the fires. Cooke Aquaculture also pitched in, donating seafood to feed those in need along with Clearwater Seafoods.

In the aftermath of the Shelburne wildfires, as the smoke cleared and the ashes settled, it was the resilient spirit of community and the unwavering support of organizations like CBDC that served as the beacon of hope, illuminating the path towards recovery and renewal.


(L to R)  Officer Brian Green and Shelburne CBDC ED Heidi Wagner. Kim Walker, Heidi Wagner (CBDC), Warden Penny Smith (MDOS), Mark Townsend (ACOA), Leah Weir, Laura Torak, Larry Walker. Alden Stephens (Clearwater Seafoods), Mark Townsend (ACOA), Heidi Wagner (CBDC), and Errol Wagner (Clearwater Seafoods).  Birchtown Community Centre volunteers prepared and served over 300 meals per day to the front line fire fighters and emergency services from many detachments throughout Nova Scotia.

“Support calls came in to the CBDC – people were asking if anything was needed – donations, volunteers."

Heidi Wagner,
Executive Director of CBDC Shelburne

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