Halifax-area wildfire has left 'visible scars on the community,' official says

Officials say more than 200 homes and structures have been damaged

A local official who toured the wildfire area northwest of Halifax on Tuesday said it has left "visible scars" on the community.

"The randomness of it — going through a neighbourhood you could see one property was lost and a house next door was fine," said Cathie O'Toole, Halifax's chief administrative officer, during an afternoon media briefing. "The second thing that struck me is the speed at which people left."

O'Toole said when people are able to come back to the area, "the entire community is going to need some support through this to try and recover."

On Tuesday, officials said the fire did not spread but still poses a danger.

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David Steeves of the Nova Scotia Department of Natural Resources said crews were busy all afternoon attending smoke and small fires.

"They're working at not only putting a fire out, but to save a community," Steeves told reporters at a news briefing at 5 p.m.

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CBC - Halifax wildfire smoke - Mark Crosby

(Mark Crosby/CBC)

Halifax Fire Deputy Chief David Meldrum said crews will remain in the area — which covers roughly 788 hectares in the suburbs of Hammonds Plains, Upper Tantallon and Pockwock — throughout the night extinguishing hot spots. He also thanked fire departments in Hantsport and Brooklyn for providing resources.

Nova Scotia RCMP Cpl. Guillaume Tremblay said police have been monitioring the affected communities to watch out for thefts and suspicious activities. He said so far, none have been reported.

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.

WATCH: Thick smoke fills the skies near Halifax as wildfire still burns

Stay out of the woods, premier warns

"We want people out of the woods," Houston said.

In a news release, the province said the restrictions applied to Crown and private land. It said private landowners are "free to use their own properties but cannot host others to use wooded areas of their properties."

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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.

wildfire-gas-station/Brett Ruskin/CBC

The Wilsons Gas Stop in Tantallon is shown on Tuesday in a haze of smoke. Officials say the weather forecast for Tuesday is not favourable for battling an out-of-control wildfire in the area, as winds are expected to pick up. (Brett Ruskin/CBC)

Savage said anyone who wants to help people displaced by the fire can donate to United Way Halifax, which has set up a wildfire recovery appeal.

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On Monday night, the Halifax Regional Municipality estimated 200 homes or structures have been damaged so far in the suburban communities about 25 kilometres from Halifax, home to many who work in the city.

Meldrum said earlier 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.

He said it will take "considerable time," but officials will compile the information and create a geographic map with the precise locations of every damaged property.

Officials are reminding people not to try and return to their homes.

New fire on Hammonds Plains Road

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.

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Crews have redirected water bombers from Newfoundland and Labrador to that area. The area around Hammonds Plains Road from Farmers Dairy Lane to Giles Drive has been shut down and sources say evacuations are underway.

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Heavy smoke was blanketing the area this morning and smoke could be seen and smelled across the region.

The RCMP were warning commuters to drive carefully near Exit 5 of Highway 103 due to heavy smoke.

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.

Air quality concerns

"Smoke is definitely a stressor — I am not a medical professional — but I know that folks who are vulnerable that may have compromised immune systems or may have respiratory disease have to be very, very careful in the area of smoke," he said during the briefing Tuesday.

The Lung Association of Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island said people at higher risk from the wildfire smoke include seniors, pregnant people, infants and young children, and especially people with pre-existing respiratory conditions, like chronic lung disease.

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"These people are already struggling to breathe, so you add the wood fire smoke into the air and it can really cause exacerbations with their condition," Michelle Donaldson, the association's communications director, told CBC Radio's Information Morning Nova Scotia.

Donaldson said those people should stay indoors, avoid exercise, stay in cool areas, and use portable air conditioners and the recirculation function on their HVAC system.

"Wildfire smoke can travel really far and it can linger in the air for weeks at a time, so even if you can't see the smoke in your area, the particulate matter and the level of air quality go down, so people have to take precautions to protect their lung health," she said.

Donaldson said if people start experiencing more serious symptoms, like dizziness, chest pain, severe cough or shortness of breath, they should contact their doctor or seek urgent medical attention.

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She added that N95 face masks can help filter out particulate matter that may be in the air — if someone has to be outside in the smoke.

An emergency alert issued at 9:28 p.m. AT on Monday said all burning in Nova Scotia — including campfires — is banned until at least June 25 "or until conditions improve."

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The municipality said it's also coming up with a support plan for residents, but that the process could take several days or longer.

It said representatives of the Insurance Bureau of Canada would be available to speak with residents at the Canada Games Centre, which is currently serving as a comfort centre for displaced residents.

During a news briefing on Monday afternoon, Houston said financial support of up to $500 would be available to households in evacuated areas. More information is expected today on eligibility and how residents can register.

No injuries have been reported and no one has been reported missing.

The fire was first reported on Sunday around 3:30 p.m. in the Westwood Hills subdivision off Hammonds Plains Road. The cause of that fire is under investigation.

Scott Tingley, the DNR's manager of forest protection, said Monday that human activity likely played a part.

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"It's safe to say they have all been human caused, we haven't had reports of lightning in the area, so it's human activity that's causing them," Tingley said.

Meldrum reiterated on Tuesday that the firefighting effort will be prolonged.

RELATED: About 200 homes, structures 'damaged' as Halifax-area fire burns out of control

Evacuation orders

The municipality said because of a wind direction shift Monday night, the evacuation zone could change. 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 subdivision.

  • White Hills subdivision.

  • Highland Park subdivision.

  • Haliburton Hills.

  • Pockwock Road.

  • Glen Arbour.

  • Lucasville Road to Sackville Drive.

  • Maplewood.

  • Voyageur Way.

  • St George Boulevard, including all side streets.

  • McCabe Lake area.

  • Indigo Shores.

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).

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evacuation-map-may-30-tantallon-hammonds-plains/Halifax Regional Municipality via CBC

A map shows the fire evacuation area and the local state of emergency area, as 2:30 pm AT on May 30, 2023. (Halifax Regional Municipality)

Comfort centres

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., opens at 7 a.m. on Tuesday and will remain open until further notice.

  • Beaver Bank Kinsac Community Centre, 1583 Beaver Bank Rd., opens at 7 a.m. on Tuesday and will remain open until further notice.

  • 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.

Visit The Weather Network's wildfire hub to keep up with the latest on the active start to wildfire season across Canada.

This article was originally written and published by CBC News. It contains files from Aly Thomson, Information Morning Nova Scotia.

Thumbnail image courtesy: Communications Nova Scotia via CBC