Halifax-area wildfire still out of control, 'many' structures destroyed
Firefighters in the Halifax area are preparing for another overnight response to the “very challenging” and out-of-control wildfire that began in Upper Tantallon over the weekend.
About 16,000 residents in the area southwest of Halifax have been asked to leave their homes as of Monday, and officials are urging those who have been evacuated to stay away as the fire response continues.
Halifax deputy fire chief David Meldrum said during a news conference Monday evening that firefighters are focused on saving properties and preventing fires from spreading north. He said that assessment of damage has begun and it’s too early to know how many homes have been destroyed by the wildfire.
“This fire has not been contained. This fire is not under control,” Meldrum said.
“Today the fire did not spread appreciably, and that is thanks to weather, the work of firefighters on the ground, and the work of the air units from the Department of Natural Resources and Renewables.”
David Steeves, forest resources technician with the Nova Scotia Department of Natural Resources and Renewables, said the fire was measured at 788 hectares in the morning and remains about that size as of Monday evening.
“We were able to hold that growth, so there was no significant growth today. Given the winds, there were significant concerns that the fire was going to spread in a southerly direction, but there was no significant gain or loss,” Steeves said Monday evening.
The firefighting effort is expected to take a number of days and Steeves urged residents living in the affected areas to stay away as firefighters continue to work.
“The last thing we want is to have folks go back before the area is safe to do so,” he said.
Steeves said the warm and extremely dry conditions in the area surrounding Halifax allow for a “fast, dangerous fire” that is able to “hopscotch from place to place.”
“This is such a precarious situation. One small fire can lead to something really big really quickly,” he said.
Crews were called to a fast-moving wildfire in the area of Juneberry Lane around 3:30 p.m. Sunday when crews found a “very aggressive” wildfire moving quickly through the Westwood Hills subdivision.
“Our firefighters worked very hard in very dangerous conditions,” Meldrum said.
“This fire moved generally northeast from the Westwood subdivision over towards Hammonds Plains and Pockwock Road.”
There are currently no reports of missing people or injuries.
“Less good news is there are numerous affected structures, some damaged and many destroyed, in the Westwood subdivision, also in the vicinity of Hammonds Plains Road, particularly near Yankeeetown Road and there’s some damage northward to the Pockwock Road.”
Meldrum said the fire has largely been held from crossing Hammonds Plains Road to the east and held from crossing Pockwock Road to the north. The deputy chief said his team was aided by firefighters from other surrounding communities, as well as RCMP, Nova Scotia Natural Resources and Renewables and Halifax Regional Police.
Meldrum said Monday crews have “a lot” of work to do and that it will continue for “many days” ahead.
The cause of the fire is under investigation.
“What we’d like to see is overcast skies and rain coming down, but unfortunately there’s not a lot of that in the forecast,” CTV meteorologist Kalin Mitchell said Monday.
Very little rain is expected in Nova Scotia for the week ahead, with pockets of scattered rain forecast for Friday, Mitchell said. An area of high pressure is forecast for the province, which typically means clear and dry conditions.
Mitchell said the wind is forecast to remain gusty into Monday evening, with winds diminishing overnight.
Tuesday is forecast to have sustained winds between 10 and 20 kilometres per hour, with some gusts reaching 30 kilometres per hour. This is lighter wind than the province saw over the weekend as the wildfires spread quickly.
The Department of Natural Resources and Renewables (DNRR) said Monday afternoon there were 32 crews on scene from DNRR, 170 from Halifax Regional Municipality (HRM) and seven from the Department of National Defence.
There were also 30 HRM fire trucks, two DNRR helicopters and one water bomber from Newfoundland and Labrador at the scene.
“This is as bad as we’ve probably seen it, in terms of impact, and we know everyone is working extremely hard, all our first responders have kind of set their own lives aside so they can go out and help everybody out. So we really appreciate everybody’s effort… It’s really a huge team effort,” said Scott Tingley with DNRR. “Our thoughts and prayers are with everybody that has been impacted.”
“We’d also like to reiterate to folks that burning has been restricted across the entire province now, and so we want to reinforce that message of how important, how critical, it is to follow the rules and listen to that message," he added. "We’ve got more fires than we can put people on at the moment and we’re asking for more help, we’re working on that today.”
Evacuation orders are in effect for residents in the following communities:
- Westwood subdivision, Upper Tantallon
- Whitehills subdivision, Hammonds Plains
- Highland Park subdivision, Yankeetown
- Haliburton Hills
- Pockwock Road
- Glen Arbour
- Lucasville Road to Sackville Drive
- Voyageur Way
- St George Boulevard, including all side streets
- McCabe Lake area
- Indigo Shores
The Halifax Regional Municipality says residents are not allowed to return to their homes until municipal authorities say it is safe to do so.
A map of the evacuation area and state of emergency area is pictured. (Source: Halifax Regional Municipality)
An evacuation centre opened overnight in Halifax for residents fleeing the wildfire.
The evacuation centre is located at the Canada Games Centre at 26 Thomas Raddall Dr.
The Halifax Regional Municipality says the evacuation centre has been opened to especially support residents who do not have family supports or insurance.
The HRM has comfort centres opened to assist residents impacted by the fires.
- Black Point and Area Community Centre at 8579 St Margarets Bay Rd. The comfort centre will be open from 7 a.m. until further notice.
- Beaver Bank Kinsac Community Centre at 1583 Beaver Bank Rd. The comfort centre is open until further notice.
In a tweet Monday morning, Nova Scotia Power said the utility is continuing to work with local authorities and first responders in the areas impacted by forest fires.
“Natural Resources and Renewables has requested temporary disconnection of power to approximatley 12,000 customers in the Gold River, Chester area through to St. Margaret’s Bay,” said Nova Scotia Power in a tweet.
“This will allow fire crews to safely fight the fire and to minimize the impact on the power system. Our crews will continue to work safely to restore power to our affected customers as quickly as possible.”
According to the utilities’ outage map, power also remains disconnected for almost 5,000 customers in the Upper Tantallon area as of 10:30 a.m. Monday.
LOCAL STATE OF EMERGENCY
Halifax Regional Municipality Mayor Mike Savage declared a local state of emergency late Sunday evening.
The local state of emergency is set to be in effect for seven days, unless regional council lifts or extends the declaration.
The state of emergency will give the municipal government more power to respond to the wildfire.
“It’s a dynamic situation and it’s something that people need to be serious about,” said Savage in an interview with CTV News.
He says those who’ve been ordered to evacuate must do so.
“We don’t want people going into the scene and making things worse and taking attention away from those people who are fighting this fire.”
Savage says he spoke with several regional councilors Sunday night and declared a local state of emergency. It gives officials the power to force evacuations and do things they couldn’t normally.
“To take over equipment and property to help fight the fire — we aren’t at the point right now,” he said.
“The primary focus today is putting out the fire,” said Savage.
The following schools are closed Monday due to the wildfires and evacuations:
- Bay View High
- Hammonds Plains Consolidated
- Kingswood Elementary
- Tantallon Junior Elementary
- Tantallon Senior Elementary
- Madeline Symonds Middle School
- Five Bridges Junior High
- St. Margaret's Bay Elementary
- Sackville Heights Elementary
- Sackville Heights Junior High
- Charles P. Allen High
At 11 a.m., Halifax Regional Centre for Education (HRCE) said all schools in the following families of schools are dismissing early Monday:
- Halifax West High
- Charles P. Allen High
- Bay View High
- Millwood High
HRCE say staff and students are safe and families have been notified.
TRANSIT ROUTES AFFECTED
The Halifax Regional Municipality says the following Halifax Transit routes have been affected.
- Route 330 will start and end at Sheldrake Lake -- 3826 St Margarets Bay Rd. There will be no service to the Tantallon Park and Ride located at 3664 Hammonds Plains Rd.
- Route 433 will start and end at the West Bedford Park and Ride located at 120 Innovation Drive. There will be no service on Hammonds Plains Road from Gary Martin Drive to Tantallon Park and Ride.
- Route 83/183 will end on Crossfield Ridge in Middle Sackville, N.S. The city says the bus will then turn right on Sackville Drive and right onto Melham Drive. Routes 83/183 will hold on Melham Drive before departing, heading back to the Sackville Transit Terminal at 7 Walker Ave.
The Nova Scotia government has launched a new webpage with the latest emergency alerts and resource information about the fire.
It includes wildfire updates and links to social media accounts on where to find comfort centres, school closures, and more.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau posted a tweet about the wildfires Monday morning, calling the situation “incredibly serious.”
He also said the government is ready to provide any needed federal support and assistance.
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