Cole Harbour, N.S., wildfire 90 to 100% contained, evacuation ends

A wildfire that flared up for a second time since Sunday in the woods near Cole Harbour, N.S., has been mostly extinguished, the Department of Natural Resources confirms.

People asked to leave their homes on Astral Drive are allowed to return

This photo shows the area that burned near Cole Harbour, N.S. (Nova Scotia Department of Natural Resources)

A wildfire that flared up for a second time since Sunday in the woods near Cole Harbour, N.S., has been mostly extinguished, the Department of Natural Resources has confirmed.

The families in at least 10 homes who were under a mandatory evacuation order have been allowed to return home, officials with Halifax Regional Fire and Emergency said Monday.

Roy Hollett, deputy chief for HRFE, said an examination of the area south of Bissett Lake, including on-the-ground surveys, showed the fire had covered about 11 hectares. Earlier estimates had put it at 20 to 27 hectares.

A DNR helicopter flies over Cole Harbour on Monday. (Steve Berry/CBC)

"It actually got quite deep. Talking to DNR [Department of Natural Resources], they're surprised at how deep this fire got down," Hollett told reporters during a Monday morning update. By late afternoon, he said the fire was 90 per cent contained, and there were no longer any flames. 

"Yesterday it looked bad. The winds were up, the temperature was warm. It was moving pretty good. Today, fortunately, it appears the weather was on our side," Hollett said. 

Deputy Chief Roy Hollett updates reporters on the state of the fire on Monday. (Steve Berry/CBC)

He said this is the largest wildfire in the Halifax region this year and it was likely caused by humans.

"We know that in Nova Scotia majority, approximately 90 to 98 per cent of fires, are in some way, shape, or form related to someone starting it," said Hollett. 

He said it's still too early to know how or why it was started. The provincial Department of Natural Resources will be conducting an investigation. Hollett said that will involve looking for campsites, cigarette butts and any evidence of people in the area where it started. 

If someone is charged for setting a wildfire, the penalties can be quite stiff and include being responsible for the total cost of fighting the fire. That includes the wages for all the firefighters involved, and all of the gas and water required in the effort.

Peter Kennedy and his family left their Cole Harbour home voluntarily Sunday evening. (CBC)

As of 2 p.m. AT, DNR said there was no "active smoke" in the area. Halifax fire left the scene at around 7:30 p.m. but DNR remained to put out the few remaining hot spots and to monitor the scene. 

Brad Connors, division commander with Halifax fire, said he was not aware of any injuries or property damage as a result of the fire.

Peter Kennedy lives in the area but was not under the mandatory evacuation. He and his family voluntarily left the area Sunday evening. He said he hadn't given much thought to the risk of wildfire in the area until he saw smoke at around 5 p.m. on Sunday.

"Once the fire started, we were kind of thinking about, just geographically, how it would kind of get to us. And certainly there is a big, just giant, green belt that goes right up into the back of our house," he said.

The Department of Natural Resources conducted aerial surveys of the fire and found it scorched about 11 hectares. (Nova Scotia Department of Natural Resources)

DNR spokesperson Bruce Nunn said 25 Natural Resources people were working on the fire.

Hollett said 35 to 40 firefighters were working at the site today and Monday afternoon they were trying to surround the last 10 per cent of the fire. He said since the fire was mostly contained, some of the fire crews were being released from the scene.

Hollett said there's still the "tedious work" of digging down and dousing the soil to prevent more flare ups. He expected Natural Resources would remain on site for another day or two.

Halifax fire crews strategize outside of the fire zone on Monday. (Steve Berry/CBC)

The fire is thought to have started near the Salt Marsh Trail in Cole Harbour.  On Sunday, it was burning about 300 metres from homes.

CBC reporters Brett Ruskin and Paul Palmeter said they couldn't see any signs of smoke in the area early Monday morning.

 

Hollett said deeper into the bush, crews were seeing flames and smoke.

No serious air quality effects

Environment Canada issued a special air quality statement Sunday evening that said people near or down wind from the fire in the Cole Harbour area may experience smoke and elevated air pollution levels.

However, in its latest update, the national weather service said it has not received any reports that smoke is impacting people's health and that the wind direction is sending most of the smoke offshore. 

Environment Canada said unless smoke or weather conditions change considerably, the air quality statement will likely be lifted soon. 

Fire crews in position on Bissett Road in Cole Harbour Monday morning. (Brett Ruskin/CBC)

The weather service said conditions on Monday are expected to remain dry due to a high-pressure system over the region.

It warned that winds are expected to pick up near noon from the north and reach up to 20 km/h with a slight risk of rain.

The wind is expected to die down overnight Monday with temperatures dropping down to single digits bringing the possibility of frost.

There was no sign of smoke or fire on the horizon in Cole Harbour on Monday morning, but security staff members on Astral Drive were enforcing an evacuation order. (Brett Ruskin/CBC)

Halifax Regional Fire and Emergency crews monitored the fire overnight at the south end of Astral Drive, Beaver Crescent and Lakeridge Crescent.

At first, as many as 75 to 100 homes were under a voluntary evacuation order, however, most people were allowed to return at around 10 p.m. on Sunday. Those allowed to return home were also told to stay alert and be prepared to leave once again with five minutes notice.

With files from Paul Palmeter, Steve Berry, Brett Ruskin