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DNRR firefighter Walter Scott of Churchover, Shelburne County, sprays the ground while the water bomber flies by to dump a load of water on the fire. (Communications Nova Scotia photo)

More evac routes still needed one year after devastating wildfire season

By Jacob Moore May 28, 2024 | 6:00 AM

A year after the devastating Tantallon wildfire started, the neighbourhood still needs more emergency exits.

Some people barely escaped the Westwood Hills when they had to evacuate through the neighbourhood’s only exit.

Tuesday marks one year since the 16,000 people were evacuated from Tantallon and Hammonds Plains on May 28, 2023 because of wildfires.

Pam Lovelace, councillor for Hammonds Plains and St. Margaret’s, has been advocating to improve egresses, or exits to the highway, since the wildfire.

She says the exits from Westwood Hills to Highway 103 should’ve been built six months ago.

“But unfortunately, under provincial regulations, municipalities can’t just easily go and take land from private property owners to build roads. So at the end of the day, we have to follow the process that we’ve been given by the province of Nova Scotia.”

Council is looking at putting three emergency exits in to connect Westwood Hills and Highway 103.

She says council has to do their due diligence because they don’t want to make a mistake and end up in court because they built on land they were not supposed to. That would only delay the construction of the exits.

Halifax Regional Council is looking at creating three emergency exits to connect the Westwood Hills area to Highway 103. (Halifax Regional Municipality)

The municipality built two permanent gravel road emergency exits, one from Highland Park and one from the Haliburton subdivision, during the local state of emergency. Work began after May 28, 2023.

However, the Highland Park and the Haliburton exits were built on municipally-owned land.

Lovelace says the potential exits from Westwood would have to cross privately owned land. She says it’s a complicated process, trying to organize multiple sales.

It’s also a confidential process, so she can’t provide any progress update or suggest when the exits may be complete.

“Even if just one person says no, then we’ve got to reconfigure a route. Part of the problem is that we’re reliant upon multiple property owners to assist us in getting this egress route built,” says Lovelace.

She says that, across the Halifax Regional Municipality, there are about 30 subdivisions with only one entrance and exit. She says a lot of them were built more than 20 years ago.

Although there are not many new evacuation routes, the province has introduced a higher penalty for burning outside of permitted times. 

She adds that a lot of people are more aware of the risks of wildfire since last year.

“I do think that people are aware of the risks and both the municipality and the province are doing what we can to raise awareness,” says Lovelace.