After one week of battling a historic wildfire that destroyed about 200 buildings and caused thousands to evacuate in the Halifax area, officials say the blaze in Tantallon is now 100 per cent contained.
In a press briefing on Sunday afternoon, Nova Scotia Premier Tim Houston announced that weather conditions have led to a lifting of a province-wide ban on activity and travel in the woods, which will come into effect at 12:01 a.m. on Monday. The burn ban remains in effect.
“I’m also pleading with anyone who’s going into the woods, don’t be stupid,” Houston continued. “Don’t do something that can start a fire, be responsible and be mindful of the conditions across the province.”
The premier said that a $25,000 fine remains in effect and tickets will continue to be issued for individuals who ignore the fire ban.
“We’re a changed province after these fires. In many ways, emotional scars run deep … the financial scars run deep and will take time,” Houston said as he sounded praise for the “balloon of spirit” displayed as people continued to step up and offer support for evacuated residents.
‘100 per cent contained’
The news from Tantallon is a development from Saturday, when David Steeves, technician of forest resources for Nova Scotia’s Department of Natural Resources and Renewables, said the 950-hectare wildfire in Tantallon was only ‘being held,’ which is a category below where it is now at ‘under control.’
In a video released by the provincial government on Saturday, Steeves provided a breakdown for various terms like ‘under control,’ ‘contained’ and ‘being held,’ that are used to classify a fire’s severity.
“With wildland fire, it’s always changing and one small variable in the environment can change the dynamics of everything that you’re dealing with,” he said. “So, if a fire is being held, all things being equal, and nothing changes, then there will be no forward progression.”
Steeves said if a fire is deemed out of control, it means that responding crews have no resources able to slow down the progression of the fire at the time.
The situation in Tantallon right now is different.
As of Saturday evening, the wildfire was considered 85 per cent contained, meaning there was still a small chance for it to spread. Now that the efforts of firefighters have finally contained the blaze entirely, they can work to extinguish the existing burn without any concerns about it growing.
“If you’ve got 100 per cent containment then the fire is not out of control,” Steeves said. “If you’ve got 50 per cent containment, then there’s still 50 per cent of the fire that has nothing to stop it from moving, so there’s a possibility of forward progression on the 50 per cent of the fire where there is no containment.
“That’s why the containment process is so important because it gives us the leverage to be able to extinguish that fire.”
He added that situations can change from moment to moment until a wildfire is completely contained.
The province also provided extra clarification in its update on Sunday.
“When a wildfire is described as being contained, it is surrounded by either natural breaks (road, lake, river, etc.) or a dozer line or hose line,” the release said.
Peeling back evacuation orders
On Sunday afternoon, the Halifax Regional Municipality announced some residents can return to their homes.
An emergency alert was delivered to alert residents that an evacuation order was lifted for the area of Glen Arbour at 3:00 p.m., with the area east of Stillwater Lake and south of Hammonds Plains Road deemed safe for people to return at 4:00 p.m.
“I want to thank the more than 16,000 residents who have cooperated with mandatory evacuation as the terrible uncertainty of when they can go back to their homes and what awaits them when they get there,” Halifax Mayor Mike Savage said during Sunday’s press briefing.
Savage said people heading home should be prepared to provide identification at checkpoints before returning to their communities.
He said that the municipality is working alongside a list of partners including Halifax Water and Nova Scotia Public Health to identify any issues such as contaminated drinking water or soil, smoke damage, and air quality issues.
“It’s not easy to tell people this, but you must be prepared to be out for a number of days yet in those areas,” he continued, as he directed comments towards the 150 evacuated residents who may now be without a home due to the blaze.
“It’s a devastating thing to lose a home and we will work with the province, the feds, and anybody else toward disaster relief and housing options,” Savage said.
Sunday’s lifting of evacuation orders is part of the municipality’s three-phase approach to allow residents back into their neighbourhoods.
“It is expected that Phase 2 will be opened in the next few days and that Phase 3 will open in the days following.” the municipal government said in a Tweet. It also mentioned that Nova Scotia Power will be restoring power to these neighbourhoods on Sunday evening.
“The area of significant impact, while located within Phase 3, will not be open for approximately 10 to 14 days. More information on the opening of these remaining phases will be announced once it is safe to lift the evacuation orders in those areas.”
Barrington Lake fire still out of control
Meanwhile, the Barrington Lake wildfire in Shelburne County — the largest in the province’s history — continues to burn out of control. About 114 firefighters from the Department of Natural Resources and Renewables and 40 volunteer firefighters are on the scene battling the blaze that broke out last weekend.
The wildfire covered 250 square kilometres as of Sunday and has destroyed at least 50 homes and cottages, forcing more than half of the county’s residents to evacuate.
Canadian soldiers and firefighters from abroad are now on the ground helping the effort to extinguish the blazes that have been burning in several parts of Nova Scotia for the past week.
Shelburne County East Emergency Management noted in an update Sunday morning that firefighters from various states in the northeastern U.S. are on the scene assisting in efforts to contain the blaze.
“Firefighters from Maine, New Hampshire, Connecticut, and New York are now on site to support the more than 190 personnel working tirelessly to fight the wildfires in our area,” the release said.
The Lake Road fire, also in Shelburne County, and the Pubnico Fire in nearby Yarmouth County are now considered ‘under control’ as of Sunday afternoon.
Penny Smith, Warden for Shelburne County, said a six-member group from Alberta will be arriving in Shelburne County on Monday to assist with the community’s recovery efforts from the fire. She also provided an update on when those affected should expect to receive an update on the status of their home.
“We will be communicating with property owners in the impacted areas as soon as we have that assessment information. We’ve been told that this is likely to occur on Tuesday at the earliest, but it is important to remember that assessments take time and will be done with safety as a top priority.”
— with files from The Canadian Press