Newfoundlanders living in Nova Scotia recount tense flight from out-of-control wildfire

Krista Smith-Ryan and her family fled from a wildfire near Tantallon, N.S.  (Submitted by Krista Smith-Ryan - image credit)
Krista Smith-Ryan and her family fled from a wildfire near Tantallon, N.S. (Submitted by Krista Smith-Ryan - image credit)
Submitted by Krista Smith-Ryan
Submitted by Krista Smith-Ryan

Thousands of people in Nova Scotia have been forced to evacuate their homes as large wildfires continue to burn across the province.

Among them are some residents originally from Newfoundland and Labrador who say it has been a tense few days.

"We were just home pressure washing the deck, getting everything ready for summer, our daughter was at the lake with her friend and we just started seeing a lot more smoke coming up from Tantallon," said Krista Smith-Ryan, a nurse practitioner and retired lieutenant with the Royal Canadian Navy, originally from St. John's.

Smith-Ryan and her family live in Hammonds Plains, just west of Tantallon and about 25 kilometres west of Halifax where one of the biggest fires continues to rage.

On Sunday afternoon posts began to crop up in her subdivision's Facebook group from neighbours speculating about what was happening. Around 4:45 p.m., Smith-Ryan said, heavy smoke was blowing through Tantallon into the neighbourhood where she lives with her husband, Todd Ryan, a chief in the Royal Canadian Navy.

"We decided then that maybe it was probably time to start packing a bag for us to go," Smith-Ryan said.

"About 7:45 p.m. we got the evacuation order. The alert went out officially across the province. We had already by that time gotten our things together and pulled our passports, documents, birth certificates, irreplaceable photos and clothes for about 72 hours and just got in the car and went."

Smith-Ryan and her husband put their decades of training to immediate use.

"You want to stay on task, you want to keep focused," she said.

"If we stay organized, we stay on task, we feel like we have some kind of control over the situation."

Submitted by Brad Holwell
Submitted by Brad Holwell

Brad Holwell, originally from Lewisporte, and his family live in Stillwater Lake, just south of Hammonds Plains and Tantallon.

Holwell, his wife, daughter and family cat fled to Bedford, N.S., and are staying in a hotel to wait out the fire.

"As things got a little out of hand we just decided to pack up," Holwell said Tuesday.

"The smoke was so intense and it was just focused in one area. It was pretty crazy to see."

Holwell said about 16,000 people have been displaced and 200 homes or structures have been destroyed and damaged, said Holwell, who doesn't know when they'll be able to return home.

As of Tuesday morning the Halifax-area fire was still considered out of control, but Monday's winds blew the fire back on itself, preventing further spread.

A separate fire, on the province's south coast near Barrington Lake, has grown to 9,682 hectares.

Smith-Ryan said her family is keeping an eye on social media for updates.

"It's been really, really unnerving. It's very scary. The uncertainty is probably the worst thing," she said.

"You feel this uncertainty, this angst and this grief, and the grief for your friends who are losing their homes and a lot of pets have passed away in all of this and a lot of pets are still missing."

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador