Evacuation order lifted for residents of Porters Lake, N.S.
HALIFAX -- More than 500 residents of Porters Lake, N.S., were able to return to their homes Sunday evening after an evacuation order, which was prompted by a forest fire, was lifted for the area.
Exit 19 of Highway 107 was to remain closed to traffic until 9 p.m. Sunday.
As of 8 p.m. Sunday, Nova Scotia Lands and Forestry said the forest fire was 100 per cent contained.
No homes were lost as a result of the fire. The cause of the fire remains under investigation at this time.
Two Nova Scotia Lands and Forestry helicopters that had been assisting with the Porters Lake fire were released from the scene and immediately responded to developing fire situations elsewhere in the province; one on Hiking Trail Rd. in St. Margaret's Bay and another in Big Pond, Cape Breton.
"The dry, warm and windy conditions across the province pose significant risk in our forests, so we must remain vigilant about fire safety," said Iain Rankin, Minister of Lands and Forestry. "These fires create anxiety within communities and have the potential to cause serious harm to homes, infrastructure and our natural environment. Many agencies are called to respond and I would like to thank everyone who was involved in the effort this weekend."
On Saturday afternoon, at around 12:20 p.m., Halifax Regional Fire and Emergency crews were called to a wildfire off of Highway 107 in Porters Lake, N.S., near West Porters Lake Road.
The fire grew to an estimated 50 hectares on Saturday, as crews from Halifax Fire and Nova Scotia Lands and Forestry continued to fight the fire.
At around 4:30 p.m. Saturday, Halifax Regional Municipality issued a release saying over 1,000 residents in the area were being evacuated – including residents on Candy Mountain Road, who were asked to be prepared for evacuation.
The Lake Echo Community Centre on Highway 7 was opened as an evacuation centre for residents who were forced from their homes.
Crews battled and monitored the fire for over 24-hours.
"We had our drones all night, watching any growth," said Halifax Fire and Emergency assistant chief, Nadya-Lyse Paré. "We are happy to report there was no significant growth overnight."
While the remaining wildfire didn't grow exponentially, it was still considered extremely dangerous on Sunday – with crews continuing to battle the flames in the morning.
Despite having contained the fire, Lands and Forestry officials said the fire was 'out of control' – with the area's terrain and wind making fighting the fire difficult and hazardous.
By Sunday afternoon, residents of 523 evacuated homes had no clue as to when they would be allowed to return.
"I live right beside Porters Lake Provincial Park," said resident, Jennifer Scott-Tinney, who took refuge at the Lake Echo Community Centre. "I could look up my door and see smoke, but it did not look to be really close."
With 83 ground search and rescue team members on standby in the early afternoon, efforts to assist with potentially hundreds of additional evacuations were in place; however, those measures weren't necessary.
By Sunday evening, Halifax Regional Fire and Emergency lifted its evacuation order in the Porters Lake area, and residents were permitted to return to their homes. Making matters better, Nova Scotia Lands and Forestry said the fire was 100 per cent contained at 8 p.m.
Memories of past evacuations
While many residents breathed a sigh of relief on Sunday night, some say the wildfire brought back memories of another large fire 12 years prior.
"We had about ten minutes, and that's not very much time to think about what you need to have and where you're going to go," said Porters Lake resident, Julia Cameron, who had a short window of time to evacuate her home on Saturday afternoon.
Other residents also describe their rushed and unexpected exit.
"I had dinner in the oven – homemade bread and baked beans – which we ate in the church parking lot last night," said Porters Lake resident, Yvonne Lowry. "We had never been in this situation before."
"The officer came to the door and said that we have to evacuate,” said Porters Lake Resident, Paul Whelan. “I said ‘is that an order?’ and she said ‘yes,’ – with that, we quickly gathered our supplies and moved out."
Unfortunately, many in the area have experienced being evacuated due to forest fires.
"It's certainly one of those déjà vu moments, having been evacuated ten years ago with the previous fire where we were out of our home for four days," said Eastern Shore MLA, Kevin Murphy.
In 2008, a fire in the same area burned nearly 2,000 hectares, destroying two homes, damaging several others and forcing the evacuation of about 5,000 residents.
"It's funny how your mind reflects back to the old fire," said Porters Lake resident, Len Turbitt. "We know how serious it can be, how serious it can get in a hurry, so there's no fooling around with stuff like this."
Some on the scene said Saturday's fire took a path similar to the 2008 fire – leaving it without much fuel to run on. However, wind remained a determining factor.
Making matters even worse were COVID-19 pandemic protocols, which some say futher complicated the evacuation process.
"Well, we would have stayed at our daughter's house, but we have two daughters," said Turbitt, who was forced to stay at a hotel. "We are socializing with one daughter who lives in the valley, and they went home. So, we couldn't socialize with our other daughter in Cole Harbour and stay at their place."
While some hotels in the area offered discounted rates to those affected, residents like Cameron and her family spent the night in their camper at Lawrencetown Beach, before moving to a parking lot at an evacuation centre located at a nearby community centre.
"We feel very blessed and very lucky to have the camper, a place to go, a community that is so supportive, and first responders that are in there doing what they need to do to help salvage our homes," said Cameron, who, like many Porters Lake residents, would soon find out that she would be able to return home on Sunday evening.