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'This is not helping': Frustrated evacuees say official communication lacking in wildfire recovery

Seventeen-year resident Peter Dominey hasn't been allowed into his Yankeetown subdivision to see his fire-damaged property yet, which made it even more shocking for him to see footage of it on the news.

“I got quite upset, by whoever made that decision,” said Dominey.

He says officials never told him media would tour the fire-ravaged neighbourhood before the residents could.

For him, it’s one communication failure among many since the massive wildfire tore through suburban Halifax 10 days ago.

“This is not helping,” he says. “Let people in to see their homes, I mean, surely somebody could reach out and contact us.

“It's adding more pressure to an already overwhelming time,” said Brandon MacLeod, a fellow evacuee.

MacLeod knows his home is gone, but that didn’t make it any easier to see it on the front page of the newspaper.

While there was a site visit organized by officials last week for those who lost everything, MacLeod didn’t participate. The lack of privacy, and the fact residents weren’t allowed to get off the bus to walk their properties, still bothers him.

“There’s no doubt our community looks vastly different than when we left Sunday afternoon,” he says, “and the simple fact that they were only given the opportunity to see it from a bus, is disappointing.”

Macleod and Dominey are among a number of evacuees who contacted CTV News, frustrated by what they feel is a lack of communication.

Some say they have yet to hear directly from officials about their properties.

Others told CTV they were notified their homes were impacted only through an impersonal email.

A vehicle and home damaged by a wildfire is seen in Hammonds Plains, N.S., during a media tour, Tuesday, June 6, 2023. THE CANADIAN PRESS/POOL, Tim Krochak

Tuesday, jurisdiction over the wildfire recovery in affected areas was transferred from the provincial Department of Natural Resources back to the city.

“We’re working on improving our communications and the way that the information has been presented on our website,” says Erika Fleck, Halifax’s director of emergency management.

On its website, the city says, “The municipality has been contacting residents who have registered as evacuees of the area of significant impact. To date, staff have had phone conversations with most residents as well as face-to-face discussions as follow-up for those whose homes have been destroyed.”

Damaged sheet music and a photograph are seen among the remains left by a wildfire in Hammonds Plains, N.S., during a media tour, Tuesday, June 6, 2023. THE CANADIAN PRESS/POOL, Tim Krochak

But Fleck admits, “Sometimes to be honest, (the communication is) never going to be good enough and I’m sure I would feel the same way if I were in their shoes, but there is open correspondence with everyone who wants it.”

But in terms of letting residents return, Fleck emphasizes there are too many safety concerns.

She says the media tour had a few participants, under highly controlled conditions with an RCMP escort.

Sites aren't safe enough for anything else right now, she said.

Melted remnants of a metal wheel rim are seen on a car destroyed by a wildfire in Hammonds Plains, N.S., during a media tour, Tuesday, June 6, 2023. THE CANADIAN PRESS/POOL, Tim Krochak

“We have oil furnaces spilled. We have propane tanks blowing up as recently as yesterday. There are still downed power lines on some of the streets.

"Well caps are off. (There’s) sunken sewer spewing — a whole list of hazards that are still ongoing that does not make it safe for people to traverse through those neighbourhoods."

Meanwhile, evacuees like MacLeod and Dominey say they feel left in limbo.

A home destroyed by a wildfire is seen in Hammonds Plains, N.S., during a media tour, Tuesday, June 6, 2023. THE CANADIAN PRESS/POOL, Tim Krochak

“Our community is hurting in a great, great way,” said MacLeod. “We need all the support we can get.”

“The anguish and the anger that the residents here are having, hopefully, will move this process into a better process so that this doesn't happen again,” says Dominey.

“And whatever process is in place, maybe needs to be rethought, and maybe if they lived here, they'd (do) that."

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