Halifax-area wildfires 100% contained, says province

Some residents in evacuated areas allowed to return home Sunday afternoon

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After a week of devastating damage, the wildfires in the Halifax area are now 100 per cent contained, according to the Department of Natural Resources.

In a release Sunday, DNR officials said the Tantallon-Westwood Hills fire is now at an estimated 950 hectares. Nearly 80 firefighters remain on scene.

An emergency alert issued shortly before 3 p.m. Sunday said residents of Glen Arbour could return to their homes immediately and people in the area east of Stillwater Lake could return at 4 p.m.

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The alert said Hammonds Plains Road is closed and Stillwater Lake area must be accessed from the Tantallon side.

Glen Arbour must be accessed from the Bedford side, the alert said.

Residents of both areas will be required to provide ID to enter the area.

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With the help of steady rain, fire crews were able to bring the fire to 85 per cent containment on Saturday.

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The fire damaged or destroyed 150 homes and more than 200 structures since it broke out last weekend.

A much smaller wildfire in Hammonds Plains, at just four hectares, is also contained, according to Sunday's update.

The Halifax Regional Municipality announced in a release on Sunday that residents in "areas of significant impact" may visit the Canada Games Centre from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. to see photos of damaged properties and speak with municipal staff about the status of their homes. Major insurance companies will also be on site.

CBC: The fire broke out last weekend. (Marion Gillespie)

The fire broke out last weekend. (Marion Gillespie)

The city said it is preparing for transition to the "recovery phase" and is planning to return evacuated residents back to the area as soon "as it is safe to do so."

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But those in the area of significant impact may still be unable to return for several days, the city said, pending the completion of safety assessments.

City installing new emergency exits

Halifax Regional Municipality is using powers granted by the state of local emergency to install two permanent emergency exits in the Haliburton Hills and Highland Park subdivisions.

CBC: A Halifax Regional Fire and Emergency truck is shown at the wildfire command centre in Upper Tantallon, N.S., on Saturday. (Mark Crosby/CBC)

A Halifax Regional Fire and Emergency truck is shown at the wildfire command centre in Upper Tantallon, N.S., on Saturday. (Mark Crosby/CBC)

The Haliburton Hills exit, which will connect the Buckingham Drive to Highway 103 is already under construction.

The clearing in Highland Park, which will go from the end of Sylvania Terrace to the Hammonds Plains Road, will begin once it is safe to do so, officials say.

More routes needed, says councillor

Pam Lovelace, the municipal councillor for the Hammonds Plains area, said when the communities were being designed, there was no "real consideration" for safety measures to ensure residents could be evacuated from the area if the main route were to be cut off.

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She said residents have been speaking about the issue for decades.

"More evacuation routes are needed for Westwood Hills, White Hills, Glen Arbor, Maplewood and Upper Hammonds Plains," Lovelace said. "There's a lot more work that needs to be done."

CBC: Heavy equipment works on the Haliburton Hills emergency exit to connect Buckingham Drive to Highway 103. (Paul Palmeter/CBC)

Heavy equipment works on the Haliburton Hills emergency exit to connect Buckingham Drive to Highway 103. (Paul Palmeter/CBC)

Speaking at news conference Sunday afternoon, Halifax Mayor Mike Savage said public safety is now a planning priority for new communities, and older communities "probably need more support than they have" for getting people out.

Savage said some recent development proposals have been turned down because they did not include sufficient ways of getting residents out in an emergency.

"As we… build, we need to make sure that we have safety emergency preparedness but also environmental concerns front of mind," he said.

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"We have a need for housing in this community... but we're going to do it safely."

Lovelace said it's not possible to give a timeline for the completion of the new routes while emergency work is still taking place in the evacuated zone.

Halifax Regional Fire & Emergency Deputy Chief David Meldrum and David Steeves, a DNR forest resources technician, will provide a briefing at 5 p.m. Sunday

According to the city, this will be the last scheduled update at the command post unless conditions change.

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Changes to restrictions on travel, activities in woods

On Sunday afternoon, the province lifted restrictions on travel and activities in the woods in all areas except for Shelburne County and anywhere evacuation orders are in place, effective at midnight.

"We know that using our woods and trails are important to many Nova Scotians' physical and mental health," Tory Rushton, the minister of natural resources, said in a media release.

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"Thanks to the weather, conditions have improved in the province, but we still need be cautious."

Activities that are now permitted include hiking, camping, fishing and the use of vehicles in the woods. The provincewide burn ban remains in place and the fine for a violation is $25,000.

Thumbnail image courtesy of Haley Ryan/CBC.

This article was originally written by and published for CBC News.