Halifax wildfire partially contained, but ‘far from being out of the woods’

Click to play video: 'Nova Scotia wildfires: Firefighters are tired but not “burned out,” officials say'
Nova Scotia wildfires: Firefighters are tired but not “burned out,” officials say
Firefighters battling the wildfires raging across Nova Scotia are tired but are not “burned out,” according to Erica Fleck, director of Emergency Management for Halifax Regional Municipality (HRM). Officials also said that while the province is “asking a lot” of firefighters, there are plans to cycle members out to avoid burnout – Jun 1, 2023

Crews have partially contained an out-of-control wildfire burning in the Halifax area, but officials warn there’s a lot of work left to do.

In an update Thursday morning, David Steeves, a technician of forest resources with the Department of Natural Resources and Renewables, said the fire in the Westwood Hills, Tantallon area has not grown since Wednesday and is about 50 per cent contained.

“So that is a little bit of bright news, but that being said, we are far from being out of the woods,” said Steeves.

“Just because we do have a level of percentage of containment does not mean that the … importance of safety in this situation has lowered.”

The blaze broke out Sunday afternoon in the Tantallon area, about a 30-minute drive from downtown Halifax, and has since grown to about 837 hectares. The fire has destroyed about 200 buildings, including 150 homes, and forced the evacuation of more than 16,400 people.

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A map of the evacuation areas in Halifax as of Thursday morning. Halifax Regional Municipality

Wednesday evening, the evacuation order for the Indigo Shores subdivision was lifted. However, Halifax Regional Municipality said people must remain on alert because the fire is still active in the area and residents are on a 30-minute evacuation notice for now.

Halifax Mayor Mike Savage said Thursday that the city has begun contacting homeowners in the area who were impacted.

“As you can imagine, that’s a difficult process,” he said. “It’s being handled with the utmost care, and respect for those who have been devastated by this loss.”

Click to play video: 'Nova Scotia wildfires: Video shows skies filled with smoke from Tantallon fire'
Nova Scotia wildfires: Video shows skies filled with smoke from Tantallon fire

Early Thursday evening, Steeves said there were “numerous flareups” throughout the afternoon, due to hot, dry weather.

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There was a high of 33 C in Halifax Thursday. Coupled with low humidity levels, that led to “crossover” — an indicator of extreme fire activity. Crossover means the fine fuels – leaves, twigs, and other things littering the forest floor – are extremely dry, making the fire easier to spread.

Steeves said there is “still lots of challenging work left to do.”

Halifax Regional Fire and Emergency Deputy Chief Dave Meldrum said the department had a “very high” call volume Thursday.

There were 12 outside fires since noon, he said, including at the Waegwoltic Club on Coburg Road and a fire involving brush and forest on Prospect Road in the St. Margarets Bay area.

He urged people to follow the province-wide burn ban.

“It’s about keeping each other safe. It’s about helping our firefighters attend to the emergencies that are impacting all of us,” he said.

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Some hope could be coming later this week – there’s a 60 per cent chance of showers Friday, with rain forecasted for Friday evening through the weekend.

Environment Canada warning preparedness meteorologist Bob Robichaud said Thursday afternoon that relative humidity will start to increase Thursday night, and a cooler air mass will move in from the north on Friday.

“In terms of rainfall — which we really, really need right now –there could be showers developing in the afternoon hours (Friday,)” he said.

“But we’re not looking at any kind of significant, sustained rainfall until (Friday) night.”

Friday night into Saturday, there’s a “much higher likelihood that we’re going to get the rain that we desperately need,” said Robichaud.

Out-of-control wildfires

The Halifax-area blaze is one of several wildfires burning out of control in the province. As of Thursday afternoon, there were 16 active wildfires, four of which were out of control.

In the southwestern part of the province, there are two out-of-control fires in Shelburne County, where 40 per cent of residents have been evacuated.

A fire at Barrington Lake in Shelburne, one of the largest in the province’s history, has grown to 20,000 hectares and “still running out of control,” according to Shelburne DNRR spokesperson Dave Rockwood.

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Rockwood said crews have been able to put in 6.3 kilometres of completed dozer guard to help prevent the fire from spreading.

“We’ve got about 1.1 kilometres of that to finish up tonight, and that gives us a good feel on that side,” he said Thursday afternoon. “It’s not 100 per cent the end on that, but it gives us something to work with.”

There are now both recommended and mandatory evacuation areas in the area and late Wednesday, Nova Scotia Health announced that all patients at Shelburne’s Roseway Hospital have been evacuated “due to threat of the encroaching wildfires.”

“Fifteen inpatients are being transferred to South Shore Regional Hospital in Bridgewater and Fishermen’s Memorial Hospital in Lunenburg,” Nova Scotia Health said in a statement.

“Some patients were transferred to sites inside and outside of Western Zone while others were discharged.”

On Thursday the firefighting efforts there included more than 35 people from DNRR and 40 volunteer and municipal firefighters.

Ambulances head to Roseway Hospital in Shelburne to help evacuate patients. Communications Nova Scotia

A new, smaller fire at Lake Road, also in Shelburne County, is estimated at around 120 hectares.

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And another wildfire that started Monday in nearby Pubnico in Yarmouth County now measures at around 163 hectares and has not grown significantly in the last 24 hours.

“Air and heavy equipment resources, including eight air tankers from New Brunswick and two water bombers from Newfoundland and Labrador, are being co-ordinated between the three wildfires in Shelburne and Yarmouth counties,” the province said in a release.

On Wednesday, Premier Tim Houston said the province has asked the federal government for a “comprehensive” support package to help with fighting the fires.

The federal government agreed to help with the firefighting efforts Thursday. Canadian Armed Forces will assist provincial emergency management officials with planning and coordination supports, ignition specialist personnel and equipment, and other firefighting resources.

“These additional firefighting resources will be used to relieve firefighters who’ve been working tirelessly around the clock to protect communities right across Nova Scotia,” said Emergency Preparedness Minister Bill Blair.

Click to play video: 'Nova Scotia wildfires: Suggestion that province hasn’t asked for help is ‘hurtful’'
Nova Scotia wildfires: Suggestion that province hasn’t asked for help is ‘hurtful’

While a specific cause of the fires are still unknown, DNRR officials believe they were caused by people, as are most wildfires.

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The Department of Natural Resources and Renewables has issued a total burn ban across the province, and the province also implemented a ban on travel and activity in the woods.

Houston said Thursday that effective immediately, anyone who burns in the province could be subject to a fine of $25,000.

Since the beginning of the wildfire season, there have been 200 total wildfires in Nova Scotia, which have burned more than 19,000 hectares.

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