Local state of emergency declared as forest fire rages near Halifax

Local state of emergency declared as forest fire rages near Halifax

The Halifax Regional Municipality has declared a local state of emergency in the communities affected by a massive wildfire that has caused thousands of evacuations, school closures and power outages just outside Halifax.

In a news release Sunday night, the municipality said the state of emergency would last seven days, "unless otherwise lifted or extended."

The municipality said declaring a state of emergency under the Emergency Management Act, gives the municipality "a higher level of intergovernmental coordination, access to emergency discretionary funds, the ability to mobilize additional supports, organizations and businesses to support evacuated residents."

Mass evacuations

Nova Scotia RCMP have ordered residents of several subdivisions in the Upper Tantallon/Hammonds Plains area to leave their homes in the face of a fast-moving wildfire. The Westwood Hills subdivision in Upper Tantallon, N.S., was the first to begin an evacuation as the fire consumed at least 10 homes.

Halifax Regional Fire & Emergency District Chief Rob Hebb said dozens of crews were at the site attempting to control the fire. One helicopter was at the scene and another was on the way.

Deputy Chief Dave Meldrum said in an update Sunday night that there have been no injuries reported from the fire and described it as "not under control."

He said firefighters will have a better understanding of the size of the fire on Monday, when Nova Scotia Natural Resources and Renewables will conduct an aerial survey.

Meldrum said people should be prepared to be away from their homes potentially for "an extended period of time."

"Our firefighters are going to be here for days and days. When this fire is knocked down, there is still a lot of work to be done to dig out any hidden fire in the ground ... this will be a prolonged operation and folks should be prepared for that."

Meldrum said residents need to be vigilant about being fire safe by not doing any outdoor burning and carefully disposing of cigarettes. Domestic brush burning and campfires were banned in most of the province on Sunday.

"Help us by not allowing more fires to start," Meldrum said.

Nova Scotia RCMP sent a tweet prior to an emergency alert being issued telling residents of the area to evacuate their homes immediately via Winslow Drive to Hammonds Plains Road.

Evacuation orders

Subsequent emergency alerts at 6:11 p.m., 7:41 p.m. and 10:20 p.m. AT said the evacuation order was extended to residents of:

  • Highland Park subdivision in nearby Yankeetown.

  • Haliburton Hills.

  • Glen Arbour.

  • Pockwock Road.

  • White Hills subdivision.

  • Lucasville Road to Sackville Drive.

  • Maplewood Voyager Way, including St. George Blvd. and side streets.

  • McCabe Lake area.

  • Indigo Shores.

Residents were told to take their pets with them.

People are being asked to stay away from the area.

Katy Parsons/CBC
Katy Parsons/CBC

Comfort centres

The following comfort centres will be open to help residents impacted by the fires in the Tantallon area:

  • Black Point and Area Community Centre at 8579 St Margarets Bay Road. The comfort centre is open from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m.

  • Canada Games Centre at 26 Thomas Raddall Drive. The comfort centre is open until further notice.

  • Beaver Bank Kinsac Community Centre at 1583 Beaver Bank Road. The comfort centre is open beginning at 9 p.m. and will be open until further notice.

Nova Scotia Power has temporarily disconnected electricity in the area to help first responders work safely.

"Our crews will continue to work safely to restore power to our affected customers as quickly as possible. Updates and restoration times can be found on our outage map," Jacqueline Klaus, a spokesperson for Nova Scotia Power told CBC News in an email.

The Halifax Regional Municipality is advising people who live near the fire to close all windows and doors, shut down air exchangers and stay inside until air quality conditions improve.

It is also advising people close to the fire to monitor the situation and be prepared to leave if needed. The municipality said people who need to evacuate should bring their pets, medications and supplies for 72 hours.

Nova Scotia Power
Nova Scotia Power

School closures

The Halifax Regional Centre for Education said the following schools would be closed on Monday:

  • Bay View High.

  • Hammonds Plains Consolidated.

  • Kingswood Elementary.

  • Tantallon Junior Elementary.

  • Tantallon Senior Elementary.

  • Madeline Symonds Middle School.

Area resident Cynthia McKenzie said she left her home with her family and pets. She said they are safe and sheltered in a pet store.

McKenzie said she was cooking dinner when her husband said they had to leave immediately.

"It just happened so fast," she said. "I grabbed my animals as quick as I could and my photos and albums as best I could and got in the truck and headed out."

She said the smoke and flames were so bad that they had to turn around and take another route to get out of the subdivision.

"You couldn't see your hand in front of you," she said.

Shawn Beaulieu, another resident of the area, said he and his son were out shopping and were told to turn around when they tried to return to the subdivision where his wife was.

Dave Irish/CBC
Dave Irish/CBC

He said he and his son are taking temporary shelter at a restaurant in Upper Tantallon that opened its doors to evacuees.

"It's frustrating, but it's better to be alive," he said. The three were reunited later in the day.

Colin Sandeman-Allen/@colinsa.ca
Colin Sandeman-Allen/@colinsa.ca

Environment Canada issued an air quality alert for Halifax Metro and Halifax County West shortly after 6 p.m. Sunday.

It said smoke from the fire in Upper Tantallon has reduced visibility and air quality in the area downwind of the fire.

It said people respond differently to smoke and mild irritation and discomfort are common.

Jeorge Sadi/CBC
Jeorge Sadi/CBC

The alert said people should take a break from the smoke at a community location with cool, clean air.

CBC meteorologist Ryan Snoddon said Sunday evening firefighters were fighting both the fire and the wind.

Jeorge Sadi/CBC
Jeorge Sadi/CBC

"Winds shift to northerly this evening, but unfortunately, will remain breezy through the day on Monday," he said.

"Winds look set to become lighter Monday night and Tuesday."

Snoddon said there was a chance of isolated showers later Sunday, but they wouldn't be of much help to the firefighters. He said there isn't another significant chance of rain until Friday.

In addition to the wildfire in the Upper Tantallon and Hammonds Plains area, there is also an out of control wildfire in Shelburne County.

Jeorge Sadi/CBC
Jeorge Sadi/CBC