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Halifax-area wildfire has not grown, but ‘dangerous’ firefighting conditions expected

Officials say crews made progress fighting an out-of-control wildfire outside Halifax overnight, but a change in the weather today is expected to pose a “dangerous” challenge for firefighters battling the blaze.

David Steeves of the Nova Scotia Department of Natural Resources said winds from the southwest are expected to pick up during the afternoon, and the sun is expected to heat up.

“We are hopeful that we can make some gain today, but we’ll have to wait and see how the environment is going to work with us on that,” Steeves said during a press conference at the incident command centre in the community of Tantallon. 

“There’s going to be an increased dangerous situation for the firefighters that are on the ground. Safety is going to be paramount in all our tactical decisions.”

He spoke of a thermal inversion, which is when colder air meets hot air and essentially forms a wall, keeping smoke down toward the ground and making it harder for crews to see.

Halifax Fire Deputy Chief David Meldrum said crews remained in the area — which covers roughly 788 hectares in the suburbs of Hammonds Plains, Upper Tantallon and Pockwock — throughout the night extinguishing hot spots.

A number of teams are on scene today, including 60 Halifax firefighters, six engines, 10 tankers, staff from the Natural Resources Department and 10 personnel from the Department of National Defence.

Meldrum said firefighters may be removed from the front lines of the fire if the weather poses a problem, and more air resources would be deployed.

Forest resources technician David Steeves explains the firefighting strategy behind the collective efforts to contain the wildfire in the Upper Tantallon area.

On Monday night, the Halifax Regional Municipality estimated 200 homes or structures have been damaged so far in the suburban communities about 25 kilometres from Halifax, home to many who work in the city.

Meldrum said most of the damaged or destroyed structures are single-family homes. He asked for patience from some 16,400 residents who are anxiously awaiting information about their properties. 

He said it will take “considerable time,” but officials will compile the information and create a geographic map with the precise locations of every damaged property.

Officials are reminding people not to try and return to their homes. 

Heavy smoke was blanketing the area this morning and smoke could be seen and smelt from across the region.

The RCMP were warning commuters to drive carefully near Exit 5 of Highway 103 due to heavy smoke. 

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.”

halifax area wildfire has not grown but dangerous firefighting conditions expected 1

Dashcam video shows flames, smoke surrounding drivers on N.S. road

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A driver captured the flames, heavy smoke and glowing embers on both sides of a road on May 28, 2023, in Hammonds Plains, N.S., amid a wildfire that forced thousands to evacuate their homes near Halifax.

The municipality said it’s also coming up with a support plan for residents, but that the process could take several days or longer.

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.

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 information is expected today on eligibility and how residents can register.

halifax area wildfire has not grown but dangerous firefighting conditions expected 2

Visuals of homes destroyed by wildfire in Upper Tantallon, N.S.

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Officials say the fire, which is burning out of control as of Monday morning, is expected to grow.

No injuries have been reported and no one has been reported missing.

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 DNR’s manager of forest protection, said Monday that 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 reiterated on Tuesday that the firefighting effort will be prolonged.

Evacuation areas

The municipality said because of 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.
  • Maplewood.
  • 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).

A map shows the fire evacuation area and the local state of emergency area, as of noon Monday.
A map shows the fire evacuation area and the local state of emergency area, as of noon Monday. (Halifax Regional Municipality)

School closures

The following schools are closed today:

  • 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.

Residents who fled Halifax-area wildfire describe roadsides in flames, homes burning

Shelburne County forest fire still out of control, local state of emergency declared

Comfort centres

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.
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