An Open Letter Regarding the Evacuation of Shelburne County Farms During the Barrington Lake Wildfire

As many of you know we have had a wildfire disaster in our small community. It is the largest wildfire in Nova Scotia’s history destroying over 60,000 acres and still burning. That’s not a title we want to wear.

I write this letter to let the people who make decisions going forward what happened here. People first is always my motto, and their safety is the priority and I don’t want anyone taking away from what people need to address this but I need to get this out of my head space.

I have sent this to all the municipal units involved, the Mariners Center, the Dept of Agriculture, the NS Federation of Agriculture, the Exhibition Association of NS, and our MLA.

Stay safe, my dear friends.

To Whom It May Concern:

I have here on my Cape Island farm large horses, sheep, laying hens and eighty 3 -week old meat birds which were to go to our other farm in Shelburne the week of the fire, which I was cut off from by the 103 closure. On that farm, we have swine, cattle and forty 8- week old meat birds on pasture. I sell what I am allowed to, direct to the community by farm gate sales and at the farmers market. We, like so many other small farmers here, help feed this community.

On Day 2 of the Barrington Lake Wildfire, I had taken in eight dairy cattle evacuated from Villagedale and put them into my daughters riding ring on our Cape Island farm as a short term measure. There was no where else with fencing and space capacity for them to go.

When we got the order on Day 5 to prepare our livestock for evacuation from the island, it was a task that required me to prepare to move over 100 livestock, as well as prepare my own family and help others. I write this simply to give you a snapshot of the situation we were in. I have no regrets about helping except I wish I could have done more, and incurred less stress for others , which in turn would have been less stress on the animals.

Yarmouth and Barrington need to own their shortcomings when it comes to disaster preparedness and farms in their communities.

There are a lot of people paid a lot of money to think about what if. I know because I used to be one. I worked in government for twenty years and thirteen of those were spent as a senior manager in healthcare participating in real evacuations and simulated ones for long term care.

So what if :

-A wildfire strikes and part of Barrington municipality, all of cape island are cut off from the 103 to shelburne for seven days ?

-What if all the livestock from the evacuated area moves to cape island?

-What if we are then given on Day 5 a preparedness order to remove ALL livestock off Cape Island, and from the Municiplaity, which includes hundreds of large animals and poultry ?

-What if help trailering wasn’t arranged ?

What if farms weren’t available to house these animals ?

-What if Yarmouth Ex wasn’t available until Day 7?

-What if every other exhibition in the province on Day 2 was ready to receive animals except Yarmouth ?

-What if no one was on the ground from government to help coordinate this and offer support for vet care, feed, etc ?

-What if by Day 8 there were still no supports or one person coordinating for feed and hay for displaced livestock animals on the Yarmouth side of this disaster?

-What if poor cell service meant we couldn’t communicate by phone?

-What if we asked for help and didn’t receive it?

All this happened and is happening. All.Of.It.

The sad truth is livestock have died in this fire. Some of our community’s food supply, crops, feed and breeding animals have been wiped out. Some farmers have lost their income. My heart grieves for the devastation in our farming community and just for our community in general.

On the flip side of this is due to community and farmers’ efforts a lot of livestock were able to be saved. It was a monumental task and our farming community will be better for it.

But I cannot tell you the stress it has placed on farm and livestock animal owners to have to coordinate these evacuations and prepare their own families as well.

In comparison, Shelburne Ex was immediately ready and had supports in place. I know this from talking to the President. I know this from speaking to farm owners, many of whom are reeling from the loss of livestock, income, and homes.

The takeaways are :

1. Yarmouth Exhibition should have been on the list which was emailed out on Day 2 to farms about where displaced animals could go. Someone missed this? Or didn’t think it was needed? What happened? I hear there was a problem between the municipal units agreeing. Yarmouth is our nearest neighboring municipality with capacity. We were cut off from the 103 to the others. No one should have had to ask. They should have been on the list sent out on Day 2.

3. The NSFA and the Dept of Ag need to have someone on the ground to coordinate supports needed and set up a registry to keep track of displaced animals when disaster strikes. Not by telephone or email. In person command center. We had horrible service and communication was spotty. With this disaster we needed one person in charge who could direct people and one person gathering information on displaced farms, and livestock. Someone who wasn’t directly impacted and could focus on getting people the help they needed. In Shelburne that person was Jamie Matthews at the Shelburne Ex and Sarah Turner. We had no such person on the Yarmouth side.

4. Farms need to be included in disaster preparedness with their communities. I worked in a career where those skills were necessary. I had a fire preparedness plan in place. Many small farms do not have that capacity.

5. The farming community here in Barrington and Yarmouth obviously counts on each other. Our priority as a community needs to be furthering fostering and strengthening those ties going forward.

Everyone I believe does the best they can in these situations however it’s important to discuss what went right and what went wrong, so going forward, we have better supports in place should disaster strike again.

I have no regrets about the help I was able to offer however I wish I hadn’t had to watch people struggle with so much on top of the disaster we were already dealing with.


Jennifer Spencer


Yellow Brick Road Farm

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