Residents who fled Halifax-area wildfire describe roadsides, homes in flames

People escaped as fire moved quickly through area of Upper Tantallon, N.S.

Residents of a suburban community northwest of Halifax are describing how they fled a terrifying wildfire Sunday, including some who escaped as neighbourhood homes and vehicles were being devoured by the fast-moving flames.

Larry Walker says he couldn't see the road because of the smoke and flames as he drove away from his Yankeetown home. He was one of thousands of people evacuated following a fire that started in Upper Tantallon, near Halifax.

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

The musician and sound technician said Monday that he had just returned home Sunday and could see an ominous dark cloud over the area as he approached.

Walker said after an evacuation order expanded to include Yankeetown, he put as many of his prized guitars as he could into his car. He said a neighbour screamed at him to get out immediately so he grabbed what other items he could before leaving his home.

home-burned-tantallon-wildfire/Mary-Catherine McIntosh/CBC News

A home destroyed by fire is seen in the Westwood Hills subdivision on Monday morning in the Upper Tantallon area, about 25 kilometres northwest of Halifax. (Mary-Catherine McIntosh/CBC News)

"Both sides of the road were burning and you couldn't even see the asphalt for the smoke and the flames," Walker said.

Content continues below

"I kind of thought I should grab my phone but didn't, cursed at myself and said, 'Get out of here idiot, you're going to die if you don't.'"

He said he had to drive around a car burning in the middle of the main road on his way out of the area and also saw a truck consumed by flames. Walker said less than 30 minutes had elapsed between returning home and the roadside becoming engulfed in flames.

DON'T MISS: Essential items for your emergency "grab-and-go" kit

A Halifax fire department official said Monday there are no reported injuries, and no one has been reported missing.

Marion Gillespie said she and her husband, Peter Gillespie, were boating with friends when they learned about a fire in the Westwood subdivison through messages on social media.

Gillespie said their home is in nearby Highland Park so they decided to go home and gather up some belongings while they were still allowed to enter their neighbourhood.

She said friends from the area, who had already rescued the Gillespie's dog and cat, messaged them telling them not to go because it "was not looking good," but they decided to continue.

Content continues below

Flanked by flames

Gillespie said when they reached their subdivision they were turned back by an RCMP officer, and within minutes found themselves flanked by flames as they drove away. She said they couldn't see in front of them and could feel the heat coming into the car.

"There were a couple of times ... we thought for sure we were going to go in the ditch, but we were able just to pull it back," Gillespie said.

"It was just terrifying to think that this is going to just devour our car and it's going to catch on fire and and we're not going to survive."

Peter Gillespie said driving out beyond the smoke and flames was the "best moment" of his life.

marion-and-peter-gillespie/Brian McKay/CBC

Peter and Marion Gillespie from Highland Park say they couldn't see the road because of the smoke and flames. (Brian McKay/CBC)

Kelly Laurin was at home near Yankeetown when she heard about the evacuation order for Upper Tantallon. She started preparing for a possible evacuation — just in case — and a while later, she got the notice for her area.

Content continues below

Neighbours houses burning

She fled with her fiancé, two young children, her mother and two cats.

"As soon as we went out to the car to put the stuff in the cars, the flames were about 10 to 15 feet away from us," Laurin said.

Laurin said they saw neighbours' houses burning and the whole side of the road was in flames.

She said the drive was harrowing: "Just trying to get through the smoke, there was areas that it was thicker than fog, like, you could barely see."

kelly-laurin/Héloïse Rodriguez-Qizilbash/Radio-Canada

Kelly Laurin said the drive out of her neighbourhood in Yankeetown was harrowing. (Héloïse Rodriguez-Qizilbash/Radio-Canada)

Laurin said at one point they saw a silver car left in the middle of the road "completely on fire."

Content continues below

The family stayed at a hotel on Sunday night, but she said it is booked up for the rest of the week.

She doesn't know whether her home of 15 years is still standing, but she is not optimistic.

"Last night it was just a lot. It was a lot of crying, a lot of panicking, like, I was in shock. … I just started bawling because I realized, you know, once the shock leaves your body, it's kind of like, 'Oh my God, my home is gone.' It's not just the house, it's my home."

Roofer John Barrington told CBC Radio's The Current he was working on the roof of a house near where the fire started on Sunday. Barrington said he smelled smoke and looked over the peak to see a fire behind the house.

He said he told the woman in the home he was working on to get out of the house with her child and cat and called 911.

laurie-landry/Héloïse Rodriguez-Qizilbash/Radio-Canada

Laurie Landry was visiting her son in Yankeetown when they received an emergency alert ordering them to leave. (Héloïse Rodriguez-Qizilbash/Radio-Canada)

Content continues below

"It happened so fast, because it was quite windy. It was just a small fire at first and then all of a sudden there were 50-foot trees on fire," Barrington said. "It was jumping, was the worst part … it was moving very fast and very hot."

Barrington said fire trucks showed up 10 minutes later and firefighters told residents to immediately evacuate.

Laurie Landry was visiting her son in Yankeetown from her home on Manitoulin Island in Ontario. She said she took him out for lunch in Halifax for his birthday, and when they got back to his house they took a nap.

She was only asleep for about 15 minutes when she heard sirens and a helicopter.

'Quite scary'

She got out of bed and looked out the window to see billowing clouds of smoke. That's when they got an emergency alert telling them to leave.

"There was lots and lots of cars, traffic jams and lots of smoke, and the skies were orange. It was quite scary," Landry said.

Content continues below

She said her son still doesn't know if his house is OK.

The last time she visited her son, Landry said, was just after a hurricane. "So, I'm a calamity. I don't know if he'll let me visit anymore," she said, laughing.

WATCH: Dashcam captures heart-pounding drive through raging N.S. fire

Thumbnail courtesy of Marion Gillespie via CBC.

The story, written by Vernon Ramesar, was originally published for CBC News. It contains files from Héloïse Rodriguez-Qizilbas, Jean Laroche, Paul Withers, Frances Willick.