Thick plumes of heavy smoke filled the Halifax sky on Sunday as an out-of-control wildfire in a suburban community quickly spread, engulfing multiple homes and forcing the evacuation of local residents.
The province issued two emergency alerts, the first ordering residents of the Westwood Hills subdivision in Upper Tantallon to immediately evacuate the area due to “multiple structure and forest fires.,” The Canadian Press reports.
The second alert, shared shortly after 6 PM Sunday local time, said the fire had spread, and the evacuation order had been expanded to include the Yankeetown, or Highland Park, subdivision of Hammonds Plains.
Environment Canada issued separate air quality alerts for western Halifax County and Shelburne County, where another fire was raging, CTV reports. “Stop or reduce your activity level if breathing becomes uncomfortable or you or someone in your care feel unwell,” the alerts warned. “Contact your health care provider or local health authority if you develop severe symptoms or need advice”.
RCMP said the out-of-control fire in Upper Tantallon was moving rapidly through the area, about 30 minutes northwest of downtown. CP says.
An official with the provincial Department of Natural Resources said local firefighters and two helicopters were on the scene, but it remained unclear the size of the fire.
The emergency alert directed residents to a comfort centre at the Black Point and Area Community Centre.
Local resident Shawn Beaulieu said he and his son were out shopping and were told to turn around when they tried to return to the subdivision where his wife was, CBC reports. The family was reunited later in the day, but not before father and son had to take shelter at a restaurant in Upper Tantallon.
“It’s frustrating, but it’s better to be alive,” he said.
Ben Clattenburg of Lafitte Roofing was reshingling a local home Sunday afternoon when he spotted a fire in the woods about two houses away. “Over the course of a few minutes the fire grew rapidly in size,” so “he and his fellow roofers began knocking on doors telling people they needed to get out as the fire spread,” Saltwire News writes.
“It’s a hard thing to make someone understand what’s happening when you knock on their door and tell them their backyard is on fire,” Clattenburg told Saltwire.
The roofers came upon one homeowner who was trying to extinguish a grass fire with a garden hose to keep it away from his propane tank. He hadn’t yet noticed the forest fire over his shoulder. “I was trying to tell him, I don’t think it’s worth it,” said Clattenburg.
The Halifax-area fire was the second out-of-control fire in Nova Scotia on Sunday as hot, dry, and windy weather swept the province, CP states.
Another wildfire burning out of control in southwestern Nova Scotia nearly doubled in size in a matter of hours as warm and windy conditions quickly intensified the blaze.
Officials with the province’s Department of Natural Resources said the Shelburne County wildfire had scorched an estimated 1,354 hectares by Sunday afternoon, growing from 775 hectares earlier in the day.
The blaze 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 spokesperson Patricia Jreige said in a statement.
A growing crew of emergency officials were on the ground as of late Sunday afternoon, including 35 provincial and 50 volunteer firefighters.
They were being supported by two helicopters, six air tankers from New Brunswick, heavy equipment, and an incident management team, Jreige said.
But the hot, dry weather made fire suppression challenging, she said.
Some local roads were closed as the fire moved, including a growing stretch of Highway 103.
In Upper Tantallon, officials also shuttered roads as the fire in the community known for its large, forested lots spread.
The main body of this report was first published by The Canadian Press on May 28, 2023.