Nova Scotia

HRM, fire department sued for wildfire

The Halifax Regional Municipality and its fire service are facing lawsuits totalling $10 million for damages in connection with last spring's wildfire in Spryfield.

18 lawsuits filed on behalf of homeowners

The Halifax Regional Municipality and its fire service are facing lawsuits totalling $10 million for damages in connection with last spring's wildfire in Spryfield.

Eighteen lawsuits against the HRM and the Halifax regional fire department were filed in Nova Scotia Supreme Court late Wednesday afternoon. Two more lawsuits will likely be filed by the end of the week.

The out of control blaze forced 1,200 people to flee their homes and destroyed eight luxury homes and damaged 10 other homes on April 30, 2009.

Over the past several months, insurance companies paid out millions of dollars to people who lost everything or had their homes damaged.

The insurance companies, that filed the suits on behalf of the homeowners, allege the city was negligent in how it fought the massive blaze. The fire started in a campfire pit on the west bank of McIntosh Run, north of Roaches Pond in Spryfield.

 It quickly spread through the woods to Purcells Cove Road destroying eight luxury homes.

The first fire was spotted on the evening of April 29. By 8 p.m., the fire was under control, though not out. The water-bombing from above stopped and crews from the Department of Natural Resources and the Halifax fire service left for the night.

The following morning a crew was back at the scene monitoring hotspots.  At 11 a.m., they decided it was safe to leave to take a lunch break. They returned to their station on nearby Herring Cove Road and planned to return to the scene later that afternoon.

But, by the time they returned, it was too late because the winds fanned a new fire that quickly spread causing havoc for several hours.

The insurance companies hired their own investigator and in the lawsuit they allege the fire department should never have left those hotspots unattended.

They also claim that once the fire spread, firefighters did not establish an effective command, that there were delays in calling in more firefighters. They also claim that firefighters went to the wrong spots and they took too long to call in helicopters from the province, all allowing the fire to destroy and damage their clients' homes.

Halifax fire spokesman Dave Meldrum said Wednesday that the department "vehemently" denies the allegations contained in the lawsuits, and continues to "vigourously defend" the actions of the firefighters on that day.

"We're concerned with all the allegations. We think that they're wrong, and they're incorrect, and we will defend them in court," Meldrum said. "That day was a tragic circumstance. Our firefighters put themselves on the line, they worked long hours, they trained hard hours, to protect life and to protect property."

Last month, CBC News obtained internal documents from the Halifax regional fire service that found the wildfire might have been prevented if fire crews hadn't been delayed in returning to the scene.

An email, obtained by CBC News through a freedom of information request, says that staffing protocols may have delayed firefighters in the critical minutes before the fire flared out of control on April 30, 2009.

"I understand that the crew had to arrange for a cover and that may have delayed their return to the scene of the original fire," Fire Chief Bill Mosher said in the email written on May 19, 2009 — two weeks after the fire.

"A cover" means the Herring Cove firefighters had to ask firefighters from other areas to come mind their station while they were away. This delay meant the crew didn't get back to the woods before the fire flared again.