Nova Scotia

Quick co-operation contained Williams Lake fire

A spokesman for the Halifax regional fire department said improved protocols contributed to the rapid containment of a brush fire in the Spryfield area Monday.
Firefighters contained Monday's blaze in about five hours, in part, due to new wildfire protocols. (CBC)

A spokesman for the Halifax Regional Fire and Emergency Service said improved protocols contributed to the rapid containment of a brush fire in the Williams Lake area of Halifax Monday.

The fire started around 4 p.m. and scorched 15 hectares of forest.

Dave Meldrum, the department's divisional chief of safety, commented on the difference between Monday's brush fire and the one that destroyed several homes in the same area three years ago.

He said since the 2009 fire, HRM fire services now notify the Department of Natural Resources almost immediately when a brush fire breaks out. 

The fire department now monitors the fire index so on hot days like Monday, instead of sending one or two fire trucks to a brush fire, they now send several.

Three years ago, it was up to the fire commander to call the province for support. Now a memorandum of agreement makes that call automatic.

"It's important that we make sure to let the provincial wildlife and fire centre know that we're working a fire, because we recognize that we're structural firefighters and they're wild land firefighters. We really need the expertise and the advice that they can bring," Meldrum said.

Monday's fire was declared contained by HRM after burning for about five hours.

Both Monday's fire and the fire in 2009 started under similar weather conditions.

Three years ago it took almost two hours for the first DNR helicopter to show up on the scene. On Monday, the first DNR helicopter was in the air after about 30 minutes.

Miles Gallagher's home was destroyed in the 2009 fire. He told the CBC's Amy Smith that the fire was handled much better this time around.

"When we just got home we were watching for probably five or six minutes and then we saw a helicopter, a couple of aircraft," Gallagher said, "which is amazing compared to the first fire three years ago, where it was a day before anything was brought in."

Gallagher said if authorities reacted as quickly to the 2009 fire as the one on Monday, things would have turned out much different.

"Holy cow! Nothing could have survived the water bombing they were doing yesterday, that's for sure. So I think we learn by mistakes, of course, but I'm not going to dwell on what happened three years ago."

Debora Pollock lives in the area and said the fire department was, "absolutely marvellous."

"They were there, they were organized and alert. You could talk to them. They were just wonderful and it was very reassuring to see how quickly they came out and how well they managed the situation," she said.

In 2009, a brush fire forced the evacuation of 1,200 homes, destroyed eight luxury residences and damaged 10 homes along Purcells Cove Road.

After that, the fire department was criticized for how it handled the blaze.

The department was accused of not sending enough equipment quickly and for taking too long to call in aerial support from DNR.

Department sued over handling of 2009 fire

Insurance companies had to pay out millions as a result of the 2009 fire.

In 2010, the Halifax fire department was hit with 18 lawsuits over its handling of that wildfire. The companies filed the suits seeking damages amounting to about $10 million.

The companies have alleged the Halifax fire department was grossly negligent in how it handled all phases of the fire.

They said the department made a series of mistakes, including not establishing a fire line or fire break, not thoroughly surveying the burn area, and not walking the perimeter of the burn area.

The first fire was spotted on the evening of April 29, 2009, in a campfire pit on the west bank of McIntosh Run, north of Roaches Pond in Spryfield.

By 8 p.m., the fire was under control, though not out. Water-bombing 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 hot spots. 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.

By the time they returned, it was too late because the winds fanned a new fire that quickly spread.

The lawsuits contend the department should never have left the scene because the "weather was warm, dry and windy making conditions ideal for a flare up."