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More rain on the way to dampen wildfires

By Joe Thomson Jun 2, 2023 | 7:07 AM

A water bomber heads for a drop in Shelburne County (Photo Credit: Communications Nova Scotia).

More than a dozen wildfires are burning across the province with 4 of them still considered out of control.

Crews continue to work on the fire in Tantallon and Upper Hammonds Plains and needed to respond to at least three other calls on Thursday afternoon.

Significant damage is being reported at Halifax’s historic Waegwoltic Club. The tennis club in the south end is a staple on Coburg Road.

Meantime, the massive fire in Shelburne County has grown to over 20,000 hectares. Additional firefighters from across Canada, as well as the Northeastern United states, and Costa Rica are on their way to assist.

Manager of Forest Protection for the Department of Natural Resources and Renewables, Scott Tingley, says they are preparing to fight the fires currently raging in the province for four to six weeks.

Already 200 wildfires have popped up in Nova Scotia in 2023.

“With all the fires across the province, we are seeing success in responding quickly and keeping new fires small. So we want to let everyone know that that’s still working well,” said Tingley.

A plane drops a mix of water and fire retardant foam on the fire in Shelburne County (Photo Credit: communications Nova Scotia).

“Our folks are working very, very hard as they have been all week. So, we’ll be watching for their health and wellness and taking care of them every way that we can,” said Halifax Regional Fire and Emergency Deputy Chief Dave Meldrum.

HRFE Deputy Chief Dave Meldrum at a media briefing on Thursday.

The fire in Tantallon continues to cover 837 hectares of land. Approximately 200 structures have been damaged or destroyed, 151 are homes.

Meldrum says the audit of the damage has been completed and they are in the process of contacting the residents who were affected. Over 16,000 people were evacuated.

Tantallon fire is 50 percent contained

Steeves was pleased to report this morning that the fire in the Tantallon and Upper Hammonds Plains area is now 50 percent contained.

“That is a little bit of bright news. But that being said, we are far from being out of the woods,” said Steeves. “Just because we do have a level of percentage of containment does not mean that [we’ve] decreased the importance of safety in the situation… we are still dealing with a very dangerous and volatile situation.”

Steeves compared the containment situation to building a fence around half of the fire. It is still able to rage inside of it and there is plenty of space for it to escape and grow.

“When we say containment, we do not want to give a false sense of security,” said Steeves.

Crews have used heavy machinery to created guards or barriers that the fire cannot cross to create that containment zone. They’ve also been strategically using roads and other barriers that were already in place to bolster their efforts.

“Traditionally, we would go around the perimeter of an incident with a hose line and that would give us our containment. This is a different scenario. Given the urban interface and the many other challenges that we have faced on this, we have moved to more of a mechanized system of containment, said Steeves.

An excavator widens a driveway to allow heavy equipment access to the wildfire near Sandy Point, Shelburne County (Photo Credit: Communications Nova Scotia).

Indigo Shores removed from evacuation list.

Residents of Indigo Shores can return home as of 7:30 p.m. on Wednesday night.

Residents can only enter through Margeson Drive with ID showing their address.

“That was great news, and we celebrate that we will open more, but we will do it in a controlled manner and in a manner that ensures the safety of our all our residents,” said Meldrum.

Indigo Shores area. Residents are allowed back home.

All other evacuation orders and pre-evacuation orders remain in place.

The latest map of the evacuation zone in Tantallon:

The latest map of the evacuation zone in Tantallon and upper Hammonds Plains. Courtesy of @hfxgov

All of the damaged or destroyed homes are located in the orange area of significant impact. Evacuees from that area have been asked to register with 311 to receive information about the unfolding situation, and to help officials figure out whose homes were lost.

Anyone in the yellow zone must be ready to leave quickly and should pack enough for 72 hours. You can call 311 or check @hfxgov for more information on where you can find shelter.

The green zone near the top of the map is the section that had its evacuation order rescinded.

The purple circle on the right side of the map is the area near the Farmers dairy facility fire that remains on a 30 minute evacuation notice. That fire is considered under control and is currently 80 percent contained. Meldrum visited the site again this morning and said he is feeling relatively confident about the situation there.

Additionally, HRM is asking all evacuees to register with 311 by filling out the online form. Staff will then follow up with residents who have registered when more information becomes available.

Rain brings hope

With Environment Canada calling for rain over the next six days, crews on the ground may get a reprieve from the battle to control the blaze and people may get to go back home.

“We have some precipitation on the way that we are looking forward to so our fingers are crossed that we’re going to receive that precipitation and help us a little bit. We need Mother Nature to get on our side,” said Steeves.

DNRR Forestry Technician Dave Steeves speaks to the media on Thursday morning.

Both Steeves and Meldrum are hoping for rain this weekend, but not just any kind of rain. Steeves explained that a short burst of heavy downpour, while somewhat helpful, is not the best-case scenario for suppressing the flames. A long, sustained period of moderate rain is better able to completely soak the fuel sitting on the ground and contributes more to the overall firefighting effort.

“The precipitation is extremely important, but also the amount and the manner in which we receive it,” said Steeves.

Smoky conditions in Halifax

You may still smell smoke outdoors. Steeves says that because of the type of fuel being burned in Tantallon, residents will experience a heavy amount of smoke.

“The fuel typing in this general area is what we call a mixed wood fuel type, with a high percentage of soft wood. Soft wood fuels are very volatile. When they burn, they put off an extensive amount of smoke,” said Steeves.

A map from firesmoke.ca shows southern Nova Scotia blanketed by the fire in Shelburne and Tantallon.

The above map from firesmoke.ca shows smoke from the massive fire in Shelburne combining with the Tantallon fire to cover southern Nova Scotia, including Halifax, in smoke.

Firefighters returned from Northwest Territories

With the current fire situation in Nova Scotia still considered unstable, the 20 firefighters from the DNRR who were sent t the Northwest Territories to help combat fires near Yellowknife, have returned to their home province.

“They are home and they’re on the line as we speak,” said Steeves during this morning’s update.

The 20 firefighter were sent to the NWT just a week ago, but have already had to return to fight a battle closer to home. When they were sent over, it was only because fire conditions in Nova Scotia weren’t considered severe enough to need them to stay. That, of course, has changed.

Three firefighters with Halifax Regional Fire and Emergency work to put out fires in the Tantallon area (Photo credit: Communications Nova Scotia).

“These guys and gals that come with this 20 pack are top notch firefighters so it’d be good to have their experience on the line,” said Steeves.

School closures:

In addition to Hammonds Plains Consolidated and Madeline Symonds Middle School (announced as closed for the week yesterday), the following schools are closed Friday, June 2,based on their location in the Local State of Emergency Zone and/or proximity to active fires:

  • Bay View High School
  • Tantallon Junior Elementary
  • Tantallon Senior Elementary
  • Five Bridges Junior High
  • St. Margaret’s Bay Elementary
  • Kingswood Elementary
  • Charles P. Allen High School
  • Basinview Drive Community School
  • Bedford South School
  • Harry R. Hamilton Elementary
  • Millwood Elementary
  • Millwood High School
  • Sackville Heights Elementary
  • Sackville Heights Junior High

An update will be provided on Sunday evening regarding school closures for Monday.

With files from Steve MacArthur, Evan Taylor, Caitlin Snow, and Kevin Northup.


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