Fire crews in Nova Scotia are at work trying to contain two massive wildfires burning out of control, destroying homes and displacing thousands of people.
“We’re definitely a province that is on edge right now,” Premier Tim Houston said during a media availability Monday afternoon.
“It’s a serious situation. The fires around the province are leaving a mark on our province.”
A 788-hectare wildfire in the Tantallon and Hammonds Plains area, about a 30-minute drive from downtown Halifax, broke out Sunday afternoon. Mandatory evacuation orders are in place in a number of neighbourhoods, impacting more than 16,400 residents.
In the southwestern part of the province, another fire in Shelburne County was last measured at around 6,270 hectares and more than 400 homes have been evacuated. That number is expected to grow as the fire continues to spread.
Local states of emergency were declared in the areas affected by the fires.
There have been no injuries or missing people reported as a result of the fires, but their impacts have been devastating. Houston could not say how many homes have been destroyed, but said “dozens of structures” have been affected.
“Our main concern is fighting these fires,” Houston said.
“I’ve seen the images, I’ve seen the videos, and I’ve seen the reality of what’s happening, the damage that’s being caused, and it’s very scary. It’s very scary for sure.
“But I want you to know that we are doing everything possible as a province, as a municipality, as a country.”
He said the province will provide $500 to every household required to evacuate due to the fires, with the funding being administered through the Canadian Red Cross. More details on the program will be announced Tuesday.
Two Department of Natural Resources and Renewables helicopters and a water bomber from Newfoundland and Labrador are helping at each of the two fires, in addition to local crews and volunteer firefighters.
Houston said crews from New Brunswick are also aiding and help is on its way from P.E.I. The province said it will cover the mileage for volunteer firefighters coming in from other communities.
In a tweet Monday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Ottawa is standing ready to assist.
“The wildfire situation in Nova Scotia is incredibly serious – and we stand ready to provide any federal support and assistance needed,” Trudeau said.
“We’re keeping everyone affected in our thoughts, and we’re thanking those who are working hard to keep people safe.”
Federal Emergency Preparedness Minister Bill Blair says he’s concerned about the “extremely challenging” conditions being seen across the country as wildfires continue to impact a number of provinces and territories.
“We will do everything we can to support the people of Canada as they are being impacted by this extremely challenging wildfire season,” Blair told reporters on Monday. “It is frankly an all-hands-on-deck response to the challenges that people are facing.”
A ‘tough week ahead’
Scott Tingley, manager of forest protection with Nova Scotia’s Department of Natural Resources and Renewables, said it’s been an abnormally busy forest fire season. So far, there have been 183 forest fires in the province, eight of which are currently burning.
He said it was a dry spring with below average rainfall, and high winds on Sunday also helped spread the flames.
Tingley said the Tantallon and Shelburne fires – like most forest fires – were likely “human-caused,” as there were no lightning strikes in the area recently, though DNRR is investigating what the specific causes were.
The upcoming forecast is “not favourable” for firefighting efforts, he said.
“We have dry weather forecasted for the week, no significant rain, and still some wind.”
In a “glimmer of hope,” Tingley said the Tantallon wildfire is not growing much, but it’s a different story in Shelburne.
“We expect we’re going to continue to realize challenges in Shelburne, down in Barrington, and that will be an ongoing assessment based on what happens with the various fires, where we’re going to prioritize resources,” he said.
“As we start getting additional incoming resources … that’s the equation. Where they’re going to be most effective and most needed.
“But yes, a tough week ahead yet.”
DNRR has issued a province-wide burn ban due to dry conditions.
‘A lot of work to do’
On Monday, Halifax Regional Fire and Emergency Deputy Chief Dave Meldrum said firefighters were called to Juneberry Lane in the Westwood subdivision of Tantallon, a 30-minute drive northwest of downtown Halifax, around 3:30 Sunday afternoon, where there was a “very large and fast-moving fire.”
The blaze quickly escalated through second, third, fourth and fifth alarms, “which is the first use of a fifth alarm that many of us can remember,” Meldrum said.
“We have a lot of work to do today, this week, for many days,” Meldrum said. “This is difficult, and residents must be prepared to remain out of their homes for several days, at least.”
During a 5 p.m. update, Meldrum said the fire was still not considered contained.
“Today for the Halifax Regional Municipality and our partner firefighters, more than 50 firefighting vehicles operating in this area and more than 100 firefighters. And they’re still out there working now,” he said.
“This fire is not under control. Today, it did not spread appreciably. And that is thanks to weather, the work of the firefighters on the ground, the work of the air units from the Department of Natural Resources and Renewables.”
David Steeves, a technician of forest resources with DNRR, told reporters that the fire had indeed not grown from their original assessment in the morning.
“The fire was measured to be 788 hectares. We were able to hold that growth. So there was no significant growth in area today given the winds. There were significant concerns that the fire was going to spread in a southerly direction. But again, there was no significant gain or loss,” he explained.
“We understand and are very passionate about what the folks in this area are going through. And we want them to know that we are working as diligently but as safely as we can to get everybody back to their homes as quickly as possible. But these types of efforts may take a lot of time.”
Steeves added that a “change in the weather” was expected for Tuesday, which could lead to a “precarious situation.”
“The winds are going to drop and they’re going to move out of that west southwest direction. The fuels in the forest are extremely dry,” he said.
“One small fire can lead to something very big, very quickly.”
According to Shelburne County East Emergency Management, mandatory evacuation orders are in place for all communities from Port Clyde, through to Baccaro, and all along Highway 309 to the intersection of Oak Park Road and Highway 3 in Barrington West.
The evacuation area also includes from 800 Upper Clyde Road to 2461 Upper Clyde Road.
According to Shelburne County East Emergency Management, evacuation centres have opened up at the Shelburne Community Centre at 63 King Street, as well as in the multipurpose room of the Municipality of Barrington Administrative Centre at 2447 Highway 3.
In the Tantallon and Hammonds Plains area, the following communities are under mandatory evacuation orders:
- Westwood subdivision, Upper Tantallon;
- Whitehills subdivision, Hammonds Plains;
- Highland Park subdivision, Yankeetown;
- Haliburton Hills;
- Pockwock Road;
- Glen Arbour;
- Lucasville Road (only) to Sackville Drive;
- Voyageur Way;
- St George Boulevard, including all side streets;
- McCabe Lake area;
- Indigo Shores.
“Residents who are directed to evacuate are advised to bring their pets, important documents and medication with them, as well as supplies for 72 hours,” the municipality said in a release.
“Residents in the current state of local emergency zone should have a bag-packed as they may have limited time to leave their homes if required to evacuate on short-notice.”
An evacuation centre has opened up at the Canada Games Centre at 26 Thomas Raddall Drive, which will be open 24/7 until it is no longer needed.
There are also two comfort centres operating until 9 p.m. at the Black Point and Area Community Centre at 8579 St Margarets Bay Road, and at the Beaver Bank Kinsac Community Centre at 1583 Beaver Bank Road.
— with files from The Canadian Press and Rebecca Lau