Fire near Halifax now out, time to assess damage

“As capricious as it is destructive” is how a firefighting official called Tuesday the massive wildfire that destroyed 150 homes in the suburbs of Halifax, Nova Scotia last week. For the first time, journalists were able to see the damage more closely.

It was the first time media representatives had been allowed into an evacuation zone since the fire broke out on May 28, forcing more than 16,000 people to flee their homes. As of Tuesday, 4,100 Nova Scotians were still waiting to return home.

Deputy Fire Chief Dave Meldrum accompanied the reporters to better explain how it all unfolded.

“You have to understand that as the fire moved, it threw embers into the air, which could fall to the ground only hundreds of meters away. And at that time, new sources of fire could be triggered, ”said Mr. Meldrum during the sinister site visit.

The embers, carried by high winds on a hot, dry day, fed fires in a seemingly random pattern. Thus, many houses burned to their foundations, while others, just a few meters further, remained intact.

The random trajectory of the flames depended on small changes in topography and wind, according to Mr. Meldrum.

In the Highland Park area, the woodlands are not short of blackened trees, which now outnumber those with green foliage.

On the streets, several cars were left where they burned, barely recognizable carcasses.

And yet, the song of the birds is omnipresent.

Fast forward

The major fire broke out about three kilometers west of where the tour is taking place. He quickly moved to Highland Park, where he finally scaled a hill to destroy almost all but a few houses.

“The fire moved very quickly through this neighborhood and severely damaged many properties here. It’s really tragic, ”confessed the deputy fire chief.

To say that the fire moved quickly would even be an understatement. The first firefighters to arrive on the scene found themselves engulfed in flames several times, to the point where they had to retreat.

And the tour of the area is full of evidence that residents must have left in a hurry. In one yard, a wheelbarrow full of plants was left there, with a shovel right next to it.

The plants, like the house, did not escape the destructive passage of the fire.

On Yankeetown Street, where Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) officers still control access, the scene is much the same. On one side, several intact houses, on the other, piles of rubble.

Corporal Guillaume Tremblay, who acted as RCMP spokesperson all week to keep the media and the public informed, also returned to the scene for the first time since the fire.

“It will be heartbreaking for the people who will come back here,” he sighs.

Third stop, Bonsai Street in Yankeetown. Mr. Meldrum points to a firewall about five meters wide cut by heavy machinery from the provincial Ministry of Natural Resources.

That’s where firefighters stopped the flames from spreading, he said.

“Had the fire progressed beyond this point, properties in the Pockwock Street area and suburb of Bedford would have been at risk. »

Not finished

Meanwhile, the Barrington Lake Fire in southwestern Nova Scotia continued to burn uncontrollably on Tuesday, even as the area experienced heavy rain in the past few hours.

Dave Rockwood, a communications officer with the province’s Department of Natural Resources, confirmed the fire has not grown in size since Saturday.

But even though the Shelburne County area has received about 95 millimeters of rain in recent days, the ground is still not moist enough.

Some mandatory evacuation orders have been lifted in the Barrington and Shelburne areas. Roseway Hospital in Shelburne was also due to reopen after being evacuated last Wednesday.

While the provincial travel and forest activity ban has ended, it remains in effect for Shelburne County and all other evacuation zones in the province. A provincial ban on open fires also remains in effect.

During an afternoon briefing, Natural Resources Minister Tory Rushton acknowledged that it is difficult to estimate the extent of damage from the Barrington Lake fire due to its scale .

At 250 square kilometers in area, this wildfire is the largest recorded in the province’s history.

“Honestly, everyone’s going to have to get ready to hear how many houses we’ve lost,” he confessed, hinting that the latest numbers will go up in the coming days.

The latest toll shows 60 homes and cottages destroyed, along with 150 other structures in Shelburne County, about 200 kilometers southwest of Halifax. These figures were slightly up on the information previously provided.

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