A wildfire that officials say has damaged hundreds of homes is still burning out of control northwest of Halifax on Monday, with thousands of residences under a mandatory evacuation order.
On Monday night, the Halifax Regional Municipality estimated 200 homes or structures have been “damaged” so far, based on “initial visual inspections by first responders.”
“A full assessment of the damage cannot yet be confirmed. The estimated numbers are based on initial visual inspections by first responders,” the municipality said in a news release, adding more information would be provided to affected residents once “detailed mapping” is complete.
Burn ban in effect until conditions improve
The municipality said it’s also coming up with a support plan, but that the process could take “several days, or maybe longer, as the fires remain active.” It said representatives of the Insurance Bureau of Canada would be available to speak with residents at the Canada Games Centre, which is currently serving as a comfort centre for displaced residents.
The municipality said there would be opportunities to speak with insurance bureau reps in the coming days.
So far, the evacuations cover areas of Hammonds Plains, Upper Tantallon and Pockwock, suburban communities about 25 kilometres from Halifax that are home to many commuters who work in the city.
An emergency alert issued at 9:28 p.m. AT on Monday said all burning in Nova Scotia — including campfires — is banned until at least June 25 “or until conditions improve.”
During a news briefing on Monday afternoon, Premier Tim Houston said financial support of up to $500 would be available to households in evacuated areas. More details on eligibility and how residents can register will be available on Tuesday.
“We’re going to work with the Red Cross to make that funding available to you as soon as possible,” Houston said.
No injuries reported
The provincial Department of Natural Resources and Renewables (DNRR) reported just after 3 p.m. on Monday that the fire was still estimated to cover 788 hectares. More than 200 firefighters are battling the blaze, including 170 from the Halifax Regional Municipality, 32 from DNRR, and seven from the Department of National Defence.
Thirty Halifax fire trucks are on scene, as well as two DNRR helicopters and one water bomber that was sent from Newfoundland and Labrador. Houston said support is also coming in from New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island.
The Halifax Regional Municipality said 16,400 people have been affected by evacuations.
Halifax Regional Fire and Emergency Deputy Chief Dave Meldrum said in an update Monday morning no injuries have been reported, but “numerous” buildings have been affected or lost, including in the Westwood subdivision, near Hammonds Plains Road, and Yankeetown Road and northward to Pockwock Road. No one has been reported missing, he said.
On Sunday, the number of buildings consumed by fire was believed to be 10.
In a subsequent briefing Monday evening, Meldrum did not have an update on the number of homes damaged, but said crews have started an assessment. It’s not clear how long the assessment will take. He had said earlier that on some streets, one home could have escaped unscathed while another close by could be destroyed.
“This fire has not been contained, it is not under control,” Meldrum said. “Today it did not spread appreciably, and that is thanks to weather, the work of the firefighters on the ground and the work of the air units [from the Nova Scotia Department of Natural Resources and Renewables],” he said.
Houston said he can appreciate how stressful it would be, not knowing the state of your home.
“We’ll get through this. It’s going to take time and it will require patience. But we will get through this,” Houston said.
Meldrum said an inventory will be conducted and people will be informed by the municipality or province as soon as possible if their home was affected.
The province will do its best to provide updated information about wildfires in the province, Houston said.
Work is underway to support comfort centres and first responders, he said.
‘Really fast, really hot fire’
The province will pay the mileage for volunteer firefighters who travel to another community to fight fires, including wildfires. In a news release, the province said volunteer fire departments can submit their invoices to the provincial Emergency Management Office.
Meldrum said the wind is now blowing from the north, which will push the fire back toward where it was burning on Sunday. But he said that can still pose a danger.
“That was really fast, really hot fire yesterday. There’s a lot of unburned fuel still in the areas that the fire went through that can reignite and can burn,” he said. “So we have a lot of work to do today, this week, for many days.”
The fire was first reported on Sunday around 3:30 p.m. in the Westwood Hills subdivision off Hammonds Plains Road. The cause of that fire is under investigation.
Scott Tingley, the DNRR’s manager of forest protection, said human activity likely played a part.
“It’s safe to say they have all been human caused, we haven’t had reports of lightning in the area, so it’s human activity that’s causing them,” Tingley said.
Meldrum said the firefighting effort will be prolonged.
“It’s going to take some time. These fires don’t simply extinguish today and you’re done,” Meldrum said.
“There’s significant work that’s required to come in and dig any hidden fires out, make sure there’s no smouldering fire that’s going to reignite.”
The municipality said because there is a wind direction shift Monday night, the evacuation zone could change. If people need to leave, they should bring their pets, important documents and medication with them, as well as supplies for 72 hours.
People who live in the areas affected by the local state of emergency should have a bag packed and ready to go because they might need to leave on short notice.
Areas affected by evacuations so far include:
- Westwood subdivision.
- White Hills subdivision.
- Highland Park subdivision.
- 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 said in a news release Monday afternoon that all residents who have been required to leave must register with 311 (toll-free at 1-800-835-6428, 1.866.236.0020 for hearing impaired only line teletypewriter users).
Garbage collection is cancelled for the McCabe Lake area, Indigo Shores and Lucasville on Tuesday. Green bin and recycling collection is cancelled on Tuesday for the Voyageur Way and St George Boulevard areas.
Off-highway vehicles banned
Residents are being asked to “refrain from filming and taking photos of the fire area, including flying personal drones.” The use of all off-highway vehicles is banned within the limits of the Halifax Regional Municipality while the local state of emergency is in effect.
Halifax Mayor Mike Savage described the wildfire as “unprecedented” during the news briefing.
While he wouldn’t say how many homes were lost, he said many residents would be dealing with “a number of losses.” He also warned people not to re-enter the evacuation zone.
“It’s a very stressful time for people,” he said earlier on Monday. “It’s life-changing for people who have been impacted by this. It’s a very serious fire.”
Savage said Monday he spoke with provincial Emergency Management Office Minister John Lohr, Premier Tim Houston and the federal Minister of Emergency Preparedness Bill Blair, on Sunday evening.
“All efforts are being made to support fighting that fire today,” Savage said.
He added that a priority will be determining what homes have been affected by the fire, and sharing that information with residents.
In the meantime, he said, people need to avoid the affected areas.
“It’s really important … that people not go back onto the scene. The fires can start and restart. We don’t know where it could be affected next, so people have to stay away.”
School closures Tuesday
The following schools will be closed on Tuesday:
- Bay View High School.
- Tantallon Junior Elementary.
- Tantallon Senior Elementary.
- Five Bridges Junior High.
- St. Margaret’s Bay Elementary.
- Kingswood Elementary.
- Hammonds Plains Consolidated.
- Madeline Symonds Middle School.
- Harry R. Hamilton Elementary.
- Millwood Elementary.
- Millwood High School.
- Sackville Heights Elementary.
- Sackville Heights Junior High.
- École du Grand-Portage.
The Halifax Regional Municipality declared a local state of emergency Sunday night in order to access additional support.
Comfort centres have been opened at:
- Black Point and Area Community Centre, 8579 St Margarets Bay Rd., opens at 7 a.m. on Tuesday and will remain open until further notice.
- Beaver Bank Kinsac Community Centre, 1583 Beaver Bank Rd., opens at 7 a.m. on Tuesday and will remain open until further notice.
- Canada Games Centre, 26 Thomas Raddall Dr., open 24 hours.
The senior manager for the Canadian Red Cross’s emergency management team, Ancel Langille, said 15 people stayed at the Canada Games Centre evacuation centre on Sunday night. He said he’s already received word that more will be staying there on Monday night.
Evacuees are feeling anxious, Langille said.
“A lot of people aren’t going to know the status of their homes right now, and I know that must be very difficult for people. We’re doing our best to support them and to give them what we can to provide that comfort until they’re able to get official confirmations.”