Halifax wildfire still out of control, 14,000 forced from their homes: deputy chief

A wildfire that has damaged or destroyed dozens of homes in suburban Halifax is still burning out of control because of gusty winds and dry conditions.

Halifax deputy fire Chief David Meldrum said an estimated 14,000 people were told to flee their homes after the rapidly spreading fire broke out Sunday afternoon in Tantallon, a 30-minute drive northwest of downtown Halifax.

“This is a big fire,” he told a news conference Monday near a command post in Tantallon, confirming there have been no reports of injuries. “But we don’t know the size of this fire yet.”

Meldrum said the wind shifted directions overnight and is now coming from the north, which means the fire is blowing back on itself and could set new fires in the large subdivisions on the outskirts of the city.

Volunteer firefighter Brett Tetanish fought back tears as he described arriving late Sunday at a house fire in the Westwood subdivision, the scene where the first fires were reported around 3 p.m.

“There were fires on both sides of the road, structures on fire. There were cars abandoned and burnt in the middle of the road,” he said in an interview outside the command post where firefighters were being assigned duties.

At around 10 p.m., Tetanish spotted a home where flames were creeping up a back wall. He and his team of volunteers extinguished the fire and set to work tearing out parts of walls and ceilings to make sure the fire had not spread.

“It was a good feeling,” he said Monday, his face still streaked with soot, dirt and sweat. “We were able to save somebody’s house after seeing so much destruction. It’s kind of an emotional roller coaster.”

Tetanish, a fire captain who has a full-time job as an electrician, said the wildfire is the worst he has seen during 32 years of firefighting. “My body is sore .… My joints are sore, my back is sore and I think the rest of my crew feels much the same,” he said.

Meanwhile, forest fire technicians spent Monday morning examining drone footage from the area, Meldrum said.

“They’re telling us that there still could be significant fire, even though the fire may turn around and go back the way it came,” the deputy chief said. “There’s a lot of unburned fuel still in the area … that could reignite.”

With no rain in the forecast, Meldrum said it could take the rest of the week to subdue the flames. “We have a lot of work to do today, this week — for many days,” he said. “Residents must be prepared to remain out of their homes for several days at least.”

About 100 firefighters are working to contain the fire, and two helicopters from the Department of Natural Resources were to be joined Monday by two water bombers from Newfoundland and Labrador.

“Damage to the streets is not consistent,” Meldrum said. “This is normal with a wildland-based fire. Homes on a street that are perfectly fine can be close to others that are damaged or destroyed.”

Meldrum said firefighters working overnight managed to stop the fire from spreading northward beyond two main roads in the area, though there were reports of some people having to be rescued from their homes as the fire closed in.

With files from Michael MacDonald, The Canadian Press






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