'Take the wildfire situation as seriously as we are,' minister urges Nova Scotians
Province increases fine for breaking burn ban to $25,000
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The Nova Scotia government has increased its fine for breaking a ban on open burning, as crews from across the province battle an out-of-control wildfire near Halifax that has already damaged 200 homes and businesses.
On Wednesday, the province increased the fine for breaking the provincewide burn ban to $25,000. The increased fine does not apply to the ban on entering the woods. The fine for violating that ban is $237.50.
"We need all Nova Scotians to take the wildfire situation as seriously as we are. We are still finding cases of illegal burning, and it has to stop," Minister of Natural Resources Tory Rushton said in a news release.
"We're taking every measure to prevent new fires from starting. All Nova Scotians need to do their part — follow the burn ban, stay out of the woods and help keep your families and communities safe."
Indigo Shore residents allowed back in
On Wednesday night, an emergency alert stated the evacuation order was rescinded for residents of Indigo Shores.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.
Burning continues, despite ban
During a news briefing with reporters on Wednesday, Halifax Mayor Mike Savage reiterated the importance of the provincewide burn ban. He said he was aware of eight calls for open burning on Tuesday.
"Illegal outdoor burning puts lives, properties and the environment at risk. And it really ties up critical fire department resources. You're endangering yourselves, your families, your neighbours if you do that and you're adding unnecessary undue stress to firefighters who have a lot on their hands at the moment," Savage said.
"Think about other people, don't be selfish. Don't be stupid. Think about how it would feel to be personally responsible for the situation that we're seeing unfold right now."
Savage said anyone responsible for fire spread would also be on the hook for expenses related to controlling or extinguishing the fire, plus damages.
Halifax's executive director of community safety Bill Moore said the municipality has been starting to contact people who have registered with 311 to advise them on the status of their homes.
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"Fire [officials] has been able to provide us with an inventory of what's there, including some photographs, but we need to have contact information for the individuals in that area," Moore said.
David Steeves of the Nova Scotia Department of Natural Resources said Wednesday evening his crews are watching for the fine fuel moisture content (FFMC), which he said measures the amount of moisture in dead twigs and leaves. He said those numbers indicate the risk of new fires — so they're preparing for it.
Steeves said between 5 p.m. and 7 p.m. is when fire hazards rise and "get hairy.' He said more heavy equipment has been brought on site and it will be used to remove vegetation to stop fire from spreading.
"We take a large swatch of area in front of the fire's path and remove the possibility of everything that could burn so the fire can snuff itself out," Steeves said.
According to the province's dashboard on wildfires, fire in the suburbs of Hammonds Plains, Upper Tantallon and Pockwock is 837 hectares — a growth of 49 hectares since Tuesday.
Steeves, a technician of forest resources, said earlier in the day the growth is not surprising given the dry and hot weather conditions on Tuesday.
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He said Wednesday's forecast was also not favourable, with dry southwesterly winds expected to gust up to 20 km/h.
The humidity was also expected to be low, at around 20 per cent. He explained that when the relative humidity levels get close to the forecasted temperature, it's known as "crossover," which is an indicator of "extreme fire behaviour."
Steeves said that could create dangerous conditions for crews on the ground.
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"Today could possibly be a very difficult day," he said during a press conference at the incident command centre in Tantallon on Wednesday morning. "Our situational awareness is going to be extremely high."
The evacuation zone remains the same, and there is no update on when residents may be able to return. Steeves emphasized that the order "is not what we want to do, it's what we have to do."
"This is to keep people alive," said Steeves.
"This is a very dangerous situation. It's changing every moment with wind, with fuels, with the lay of the land, how the sun is heating the fuels. Everything is constantly evolving, so we have to take the safest route for the citizens we are here to serve."
Halifax Fire Deputy Chief David Meldrum said additional resources will be on the scene today, including crews from a number of other communities in the province and from Prince Edward Island.
By Wednesday evening, Meldrum said there were nine fire engines, 15 tankers, two National Defence units and 110 personnel working on hot spots and flare-ups.
Late Tuesday afternoon, a new fire was reported on Hammonds Plains Road near the Farmers Dairy building.
While it's close to the perimeter of the original wildfire in the area, it's considered a new fire.
The area around Hammonds Plains Road from Farmers Dairy Lane to Giles Drive was shut down and an evacuation order was issued, but it was later rescinded.
Meldrum said he patrolled the area Wednesday morning and it was looking "very good."
The cause of that fire is not yet known.
Stay out of the woods
During a briefing with reporters on Tuesday afternoon, Premier Tim Houston said there is now a provincewide ban on all travel and activity within Nova Scotia's forests, including hiking, fishing, camping and off-road vehicle use.
Natural Resources Minister Tory Rushton pleaded with Nova Scotians to abide by the order, noting there were seven reports of illegal burns on Tuesday after the burn ban was implemented.
"We don't take this lightly … but we cannot afford to have any more fires," Rushton told the CBC's Information Morning.
Officials said 200 homes and businesses have been damaged in the suburban communities about 25 kilometres from Halifax that are home to many who work in the city.
Terri and Lutz Kottwitz not only lost their home, but also their business.
The couple run ForestKids Early Learning in Yankeetown, which was decimated by the fast-moving fire that started Sunday afternoon in the Westwood Hills subdivision.
"That's my life. They're my family," a tearful Terri Kottwitz said of the children and families that attended the daycare.
Lutz Kottwitz added: "It's Terri's purpose in life. It's everything."
Terri Kottwitz said they plan to rebuild.
Wooded areas of municipal parks will be closed as of 8 a.m. on Wednesday. Parks such as Shubie Park, Point Pleasant Park and Admiral Cove Park will be fully closed, as they are heavily wooded. Non-wooded areas of parks, like playgrounds and sport fields will remain open for use.
The restrictions are in place until June 25, "or until conditions allow them to be lifted."
Mayor Mike Savage said officials are considering reducing the evacuation area boundary so some people who were forced to flee their homes because of the fire might be able to go back sooner.
Savage said a decision will be made Wednesday morning, but that everything hinges on the movement of the wildfire. He said no reductions in evacuated areas would be considered if the risk of fire spreading rises.
"This is dangerous, and it is unpredictable, and fire safety is the No. 1 concern we have," Savage told reporters Tuesday afternoon.
Anyone who wants to help people displaced by the fire can donate to United Way Halifax, which has set up a wildfire recovery appeal, he said.
Meldrum said Tuesday that most of the damaged or destroyed structures are single-family homes. He asked for patience from some 16,400 residents who are anxiously awaiting information about their properties.
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Meldrum 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.
No injuries have been reported and no one has been reported missing.
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 Cpl. Guillaume Tremblay said officers are patrolling the affected neighbours 24 hours a day to keep people who should not be there out.
Halifax Regional Police warned residents on Wednesday about a potential scam related to the evacuation orders. They said a member of the public received a call that stated the fire was in their area.
"It is unclear at this time what motivated the call. However, police are taking this very seriously given the timing of the call during a difficult crisis," a news release said.
"We want the public to know that they will not receive individual calls from official sources asking them to evacuate their homes. Evacuation orders will come from emergency alerts through the proper government channels."
The municipality 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 in a news release Monday afternoon that 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 Thursday:
- Hammonds Plains Consolidated.
- Madeline Symonds Middle School.
- 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.
- École du Grand-Portage.
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 remain open until will remain 9 p.m. on Wednesday. It will be open from 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. on Thursday.
- Beaver Bank Kinsac Community Centre, 1583 Beaver Bank Rd., will remain open until will remain 9 p.m. on Wednesday. It will be open from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. on Thursday.
- 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.
With files from Aly Thomson, Josh Hoffman, Information Morning Nova Scotia