Multiple calls keep crews busy as Halifax-area wildfire continues to burn
Deputy fire chief says extra crews and all off-duty personnel have been called in to help
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Multiple fires throughout the Halifax area kept crews busy on Thursday afternoon as temperatures soared above 30 C and an 837-hectare wildfire in a suburb burned for a fourth day.
In addition to the large fire impacting the communities of Upper Tantallon, Hammonds Plains and Pockwock — which is currently 50 per cent contained — new fires erupted at the Waegwoltic Club in south-end Halifax and in wooded areas off Prospect Road and Perrin Drive in Waverley. Halifax Fire officials said crews also had to respond to multiple motor vehicle collisions on Thursday.
"It's so terribly dry right now, it's a significant challenge," Halifax Regional Fire and Emergency Deputy Chief David Meldrum said in an update with reporters at 5 p.m. on Thursday. Meldrum said wet towels were being used to help cool crew down because of the heat.
Meldrum said Halifax Fire will be doing more to enforce the provincewide burn ban that is in effect. He said firefighters are now being directed to report illegal burns to the fire prevention division so it can be followed up for enforcement, which likely means summary offence tickets to people who are not following the rules.
"This is important, this is about keeping each other safe, it's about helping out firefighters attend to the emergencies that are impacting all of us," Meldrum said. The next update on the Halifax-area fires is expected Friday at 9 a.m.
Propane torch and bonfire reports
Earlier on Thursday afternoon, Halifax Mayor Mike Savage said there were reports of people within the previous 12 hours breaking the burn ban, including someone using a propane torch to burn leaves and another person starting a bonfire.
"This is a clear violation of the no-stupid policy," Savage said in an update with reporters at 3 p.m. "Don't do it."
Savage said there is "absolutely no reason" for people to be burning or flicking cigarettes outside.
WATCH | Breaking the burn ban in Halifax could result in tickets
Meldrum said extra help has been called in and off-duty firefighters were recalled on an emergency basis to help with all the fires.
"We're stretched, not broken," Meldrum said.
He said the Prospect Road fire had been "knocked down," meaning most of the open flame is suppressed and crews will be dealing with smoldering fire. He said the Waegwoltic Club sustained "very, very significant damage."
Keeping indoor air safe
The provincewide fine for violating the current burn ban was increased this week to $25,000 from $237.50. Premier Tim Houston told reporters Thursday afternoon that he wasn't aware of any fines related to the burn ban being issued yet.
Nova Scotia Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Robert Strang emphasized safety when it comes to smoke exposure. He said if you can see it or smell it, the air quality is being negatively affected.
Strang advised people to avoid doing strenuous activities outside. He said people who live close to the fires should keep their windows and doors closed as much as possible.
Air conditioners are safe to use as long as the fresh air intake is closed and the filter is clean, Strang said. He said heat pumps are safe because they don't bring outdoor air inside. Strang said anyone in need of specific health advice can call 811.
WATCH | N.S. officials provide June 1 update on wildfires
Officials have said about 200 homes and other structures were damaged by the fire that broke out mid-Sunday afternoon in Westwood Hills, a suburb about 25 kilometres outside Halifax.
About 16,400 residents were forced from their homes at the height of the evacuations — stretching from Upper Tantallon to Sackville. There have been no reports of injuries or missing people.
Meldrum said Thursday morning that an audit of that damage is complete, although he did not have numbers.
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He said evacuees need to register with 311 so they can be notified if their property was damaged or destroyed. (Toll-free at 1-800-835-6428, 1-866-236-0020 for hearing impaired only line teletypewriter users).
Meldrum said there are 10 fire engines on scene, as well as 15 tankers, two specialty units from the federal Defence Department and more than 130 firefighters including crews from Prince Edward Island.
Thursday's priorities will be controlling flare-ups and hot spots and soaking the ground, and also ensuring the health and safety of firefighters on the ground who are working in extreme conditions.
Firefighters "want to come here. They want to do this work, and indeed in some cases we have more firefighters bugging their bosses to come and help," he said. "This is a prolonged operation and we have over 50 fire stations in our municipality and they all need coverage."
The federal government announced Thursday the Canadian Armed Forces will be providing supports to help battle wildfires raging across Nova Scotia, including planning and co-ordination support, and firefighters and fire specialists to help control the blazes.
On Wednesday night, an emergency alert stated the evacuation order was rescinded for residents of Indigo Shores.
People were allowed to start returning to the neighbourhood at 7:30 p.m. on Wednesday, but only through Margeson Drive with an ID showing an address for the area.
Residents of Indigo Shores are still on an evacuation notice, which means they would have 30 minutes to go if they need to leave again.
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Meldrum has said Emergency Health Services has seen an increase in respiratory distress calls due to poor air quality, some as far away as Dunbrack Street in Halifax, about 20 kilometres from Upper Tantallon.
Nova Scotia is offering a one-time payment of $500 per eligible household for those affected by the evacuation order. Residents can apply for that payment through the Canadian Red Cross.
Officials are investigating what started the initial fire in the Westwood Hills subdivision off Hammonds Plains Road, but officials with the Natural Resources department have said it was likely human activity.
Nova Scotia RCMP have said officers are patrolling the affected neighbourhoods 24 hours a day to keep people who should not be there out. There have been no reports of looting or suspicious activity.
Police are also asking people to be vigilant in spotting potential scams related to the evacuations.
One incident has already been reported of someone receiving a call ordering them to evacuate their home, even though an evacuation order for their area did not exist.
The municipality has said the evacuation zone could change, and if people need to leave, they should bring their pets, important documents and medication with them, as well as supplies for 72 hours.
People who live in the areas affected by the local state of emergency should have a bag packed and ready to go because they might need to leave on short notice.
Areas affected by evacuations so far include:
- Westwood Hills subdivision.
- White Hills subdivision.
- Highland Park subdivision.
- Haliburton Hills.
- Pockwock Road.
- Glen Arbour.
- Lucasville Road to Sackville Drive.
- Voyageur Way.
- St George Boulevard, including all side streets.
- McCabe Lake area.
The Halifax Regional Municipality said all residents who have been required to leave must register with 311 (toll-free at 1-800-835-6428, 1-866-236-0020 for hearing impaired only line teletypewriter users).
The following schools are closed Friday:
- Bay View High School.
- Tantallon Junior Elementary.
- Tantallon Senior Elementary.
- Five Bridges Junior High.
- St. Margaret's Bay Elementary.
- Kingswood Elementary.
- Charles P. Allen High School.
- Basinview Drive Community School.
- Bedford South School.
- Harry R. Hamilton Elementary.
- Millwood Elementary.
- Millwood High School.
- Sackville Heights Elementary.
- Sackville Heights Junior High.
The Halifax Regional Centre for Education said an update would be provided on Sunday evening about school closures for Monday.
The Halifax Regional Municipality declared a local state of emergency Sunday night in order to access additional support.
Comfort centres have been opened at:
- Black Point and Area Community Centre, 8579 St Margarets Bay Rd., will be open from 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. on Friday, June 2.
- Beaver Bank Kinsac Community Centre, 1583 Beaver Bank Rd., will be open from 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. on Friday, June 2.
- Canada Games Centre, 26 Thomas Raddall Dr., open 24 hours.
- John W. Lindsay YMCA, 5640 Sackville St., Monday to Friday 5:45 a.m. to 10 p.m, Saturday and Sunday 7:45 a.m. to 8 p.m.
- Community YMCA, 2269 Gottingen St., Halifax, Monday to Friday 9:30 a.m. to 10 p.m., Saturday and Sunday 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m.
A mobile primary health clinic will be available at the Canada Games comfort centre on Wednesday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. The clinic will be able to provide care for non-urgent health issues, like prescription refills, minor respiratory symptoms, sore throat, headache, muscle pain and mental health and addiction support.