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Some Halifax residents say they received confusing communication amid wildfire

As wildfires grew and traveled through the suburban area northwest of Halifax, some of the 16,000 evacuated residents say they received confusing advice about what to do.

Debbie Whyte and her family fled their Westwood Hills home in a rush Sunday afternoon after seeing smoke in their neighbourhood — before they received the Nova Scotia emergency alert with evacuation orders.

“I called the non-emergency fire number and they told me because of where we were to pack our things and get out,” Whyte said.

For fellow Westwood Hills residents Shobitha and Paul Grant, the message to evacuate was not immediately clear.

“I started to see chatter on the neighbourhood Facebook page in Westwood Hills and the next thing you know we saw smoke blowing in across our yard,” Paul said.

Shobitha said she called the RCMP, who told her that “at this stage it doesn’t like its hitting our end of Westwood Hills.”

As billowing smoke approached their home, Shobitha called RCMP back and was told that time to evacuate.

“If there’s a need to evacuate, get to everyone’s phone and TV ASAP,” Paul said. Some residents say that early evacuation maps were inaccurate and were shared too slowly.

Halifax Mayor Mike Savage, when asked about residents’ communication concerns, noted that the Halifax-area wildfire was quickly changing.

“Information is one thing, accurate information is a really important part of this as well,” Savage said.

Erica Fleck, Halifax EMO coordinator, said the city is working with its communication team to “try to get better information out there for residents.”

Nova Scotia Premier Tim Houston said that while the province’s focus remains on battling the out-of-control fires, the communication process will also be examined.

“In the very beginning it’s always going to be a challenge, but we’re doing the best we can,” Houston said.

Some parents say further confusion came from the Halifax Regional Centre for Education’s early dismissal of many students from schools in the Halifax area Monday.

Centre for education spokesperson Lindsay Bunn said the call for early dismissal came from Halifax Fire and emergency services in order to “get families and staff and kids in safe spaces” as firefighting efforts continued.

As of Tuesday morning, 14 schools in the Halifax area remain closed.

Approximately 200 homes or structures have been damaged by the wildfire that began burning Sunday in the Upper Tantallon, N.S., area, according to preliminary estimates.

The Halifax Regional Municipality released the estimate Monday night and said the number is based on initial visual inspections by first responders, though a full assessment of the damage cannot yet be confirmed.

At the same time, an out of control wildfire is burning in Shelburne County and has grown to more than 10,300 hectares.  

For more Nova Scotia news visit our dedicated provincial page

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