Halifax area neighbourhoods evacuated as fast moving fire engulfs homes and spreads
May 28, 2023 By Brett Bundale and Michael MacDonald, The Canadian Press
HALIFAX — A rapidly spreading wildfire, fed by strong winds and tinder-dry woods, has destroyed homes and forced the evacuation of several suburban communities northwest of Halifax.
Amid thick plumes of smoke, hundreds of residents fled from the Tantallon area Sunday afternoon after the RCMP issued an emergency alert about “structure and forest fires” around 5 p-m.
“The fire in Tantallon is obviously very out of control,” Halifax Fire district Chief Rob Hebb said in an interview, referring to a community that’s a 30-minute drive northwest of downtown Halifax.
“It’s jumping roads and it’s . . . overrunning our crews and most of them are pulling back.”
Hebb said there were no reports of injuries but he stressed that the fire was quickly moving eastward, driven by steady winds at 15 to 20 kilometres per hour, with gusts reported at 40 km/h.
“The plume is visible from everywhere in the Halifax region,” he said,
The province issued two more emergency alerts as the fire rapidly expanded over the next three hours.
Noah Hickey, a 21-year-old construction worker, stood near a highway exit in Tantallon as he watched the fire.
“My house is up in Westwood and it might burn down,” he said, referring to the first subdivision to be evacuated. “We just moved in and don’t have rent insurance yet.”
Hickey said his employer’s trailers were burning when he left his work site earlier in the day. He said he tried to save an excavator from the flames, but “it lit up right next to my truck.”
“I’m nervous and my heart’s in my chest,” he said, pointing to smoke in the distance. “If it gets over that hill, my house is gone.”
Steve Hoskins, 37, said he and his family had to leave their home in nearby Hammonds Plains.
“It was starting to come our way and we had to evacuate,” he said as he sat at the roadside with his wife Julie, son Patrick and daughter Mia. “We don’t know what’s going on or if our house is still standing. I’m upset and anxious . . . . We just have the clothes we have on and that’s it.”
The second emergency alert, shared shortly after 6 p.m., called for the evacuation of the Highland Park subdivision in Hammonds Plains. And just before 8 p.m., another alert ordered evacuations in Haliburton Hills, Glen Arbour, Pockwood Road, Lucasville Road and the White Hills subdivision.
White Hills is a 10-minute drive from Tanya Moxley’s home in Kingswood, N.S., where she and her family were preparing to leave if told to do so.
“The sun is not quite the right colour and there’s billows of smoke coming up over the back of the house,” Moxley said as she, her husband and two teenaged sons were busy getting ready.
“Every time the smoke went by, the sun was really red … You can just see little flaky things flying around and you kind of think, `Who’s burning something?’ … We’ve turned off the air exchanger and kept all the doors and windows closed.”
Moxley said she was trying to stay calm by putting things in perspective.
“Lots of people have it far worse,” she said. “People in Westwood have lost their homes. And parts of Canada have already had the same problem fairly recently.”
An official with the provincial Department of Natural Resources said local firefighters and two helicopters are on the scene, but the size of the blaze remained unclear.
The emergency alerts directed residents to a comfort centre at the Black Point and Area Community Centre.
Hebb said Halifax region firefighters were also trying to douse brush fires in the Lawrencetown and Fall River areas, and he said a call came in for an ammonia leak at a rink in Bedford.
“Basically, all hell is breaking loose,” he said.
Meanwhile, the Halifax-area fires came in addition to an out-of-control blaze in southwestern Nova Scotia that nearly doubled in size in a matter of hours as warm and windy conditions quickly intensified the flames.
Provincial officials said the Shelburne County wildfire had scorched an estimated 1,354 hectares by Sunday afternoon, growing from 775 hectares earlier in the day.
The fire about an hour southeast of Yarmouth “escaped containment” on Saturday night as searing winds propelled flames through a largely forested area around Barrington Lake, Department of Natural Resources spokesperson Patricia Jreige said in a statement.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 28, 2023.
With files from Michael Tutton
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