Forest fire forces evacuation of 1,000 people, closes highway in N.S.

On Sunday, crews continued to fight a 50 hectare forest fire in Porters Lake, N.S.

Since the fire began on Saturday afternoon, around 150 homes were evacuated – affecting over 1,000 residents. By Sunday evening, it was announced that an evacuation ban would be lifted at 6 p.m., allowing residents to return to their homes.

Exit 19 of Highway 107 will remain closed to traffic until 9 p.m. Sunday evening.

Afternoon disaster

On Saturday afternoon, at around 12:20 p.m., Halifax Regional Fire and Emergency crews were called to a wildfire off of Highway 107 in Porters Lake, N.S., near West Porters Lake Road.

Around 2 p.m., Halifax Fire tweeted that its crews, alongside Nova Scotia Lands and Forestry crews, were working on a brush fire near Highway 107 Exit 19. The portion of the highway has since been closed, with crews asking motorists to avoid the area.

HRFE and Lands & @NSLandsForestry are workng a significant brush fire in the vicinity of HWY 107 Exit 19. Highway is closed - avoid this area to allow crews and aircraft to work. pic.twitter.com/cDrbcgvEW8

— Halifax Fire (@hfxfire) May 23, 2020

Team effort

Officials say at least eight Halifax Fire stations responded; meanwhile, 15 personnel and three aircraft from Lands and Forestry were deployed.

Many homes in the West Porters Lake Road area are being evacuated as crews continue to fight the forest fire. A comfort centre will be set up for those evacuated. @CTVAtlantic pic.twitter.com/k9uOMuChQ7

— Cory McGraw (@McgrawCory) May 23, 2020

Prime conditions for forest fire

On Saturday, Jim Rudderham, Lands and Forestry acting manager for forest protection, said the fire was 40 hectares in size by late afternoon – adding it was "out of control."

“It’s very dry out. We had a beautiful week of sunny skies, and it dried the forest out,” said Rudderham. “The current conditions – high temperatures, low humidity and some wind – are prime conditions for fires to burn.”

The fire spread rapidly due to conditions, such as high winds, and jumped the highway – spreading on both sides of Highway 107.

Assisting residents

Around 2 p.m. on Saturday, Environment Canada issued an air quality alert warning residents in Halifax Metro and Halifax County West of smoke in their area.

At around 4:30 p.m., Halifax Regional Municipality issued a release saying over 1,000 residents in the area are being evacuated – including residents on Candy Mountain Road, who are asked to be prepared for evacuation.

Around 5:30 p.m., fire officials gave an update on the situation, as well as their efforts.

"We're evacuating both sides of the West Porter Lake Road all the way down to Bellefontaine Road," said Halifax Fire assistant chief, Nadya-Lyse Paré on Saturday evening, cautioning residents and motorists. "We have crews all around the fire right now. We're fighting it… we're hoping to stop it at the highway, but please follow evacuation orders."

The Lake Echo Community Centre on Highway 7 opened as an evacuation centre for residents who have been forced from their homes.

Meanwhile, Highway 107 remains closed to traffic between Exit 18 and Exit 20.

Nova Scotia RCMP said residents would be notified directly if they needed to evacuate.

The morning after

On Sunday morning, crews from Nova Scotia Lands and Forestry, Halifax firefighters, alongside RCMP and emergency services continued to fight the fire and manage the situation.

HRM Municipal Councillor David Hendsbee provided an update for Porters Lake via social media. Hendsbee noted fire crews remained on site overnight and patrolled the area for possible flare-ups near homes. He added Halifax Fire is preparing bulk water supply stations for pumper trucks and hoses.

Hendsbee also noted Halifax Fire and Lands and Forestry were concerned about a shift in the wind. He added if wind directions changed again there may be a need to increase the evacuation zone bubble.

Around 10 a.m., Halifax Regional Fire and Emergency announced the fire was stable, but still out of control, with an evacuation order remaining in effect.

Later on Sunday

In the afternoon, officials from Halifax Fire and Emergency and Lands and Forestry provided an update on the wildfire.

At 1 p.m., Lands and Forestry said no structures had been threatened or lost in Porters Lake. However, officials confirmed 523 homes were evacuated on Saturday.

Meanwhile, 83 ground search and rescue teams remained staged in the areas of potential evacuation. Halifax Regional Fire and Emergency district chief of emergency management, Erica Fleck, said 500 homes are on standby in case more evacuations are needed.

David Steeves of Lands and Forestry noted efforts to contain the fire were progressing, with it being 60 per cent contained by the time of the update. He also added it was approximately 50 hectares in size during the update.

Officials plan to give another update at 6 p.m. on Sunday.

523 homes evacuated yesterday. 83 ground search and rescue teams staged in the areas of potential evacuation. 500 homes to remain on standby in case more evacuation needed says Erica Fleck of Halifax Fire. Will be giving another update at 6 pm tonight. pic.twitter.com/XDx3QmnCHU

— Allan April (@AllanAprilCTV) May 24, 2020

UPDATE West Porters Lake Fire. Fire is still active but is now 60% contained. NS Lands and Forestry says there is no active fire front. Crews are dealing with hot spots as wind picks up. Some residents asked to leave their homes on Marjorie Dr. as a precaution. @CTVAtlantic pic.twitter.com/LksgSySmeU

— Paul Creelman (@PaulCreelmanCTV) May 24, 2020

At around 3 p.m., Halifax Regional Fire and Emergency said the fire was 70 per cent contained.

West Porters Lake Area fire is 70% contained. We’ll share a PSA with the media and a local hfxALERT when the evacuation of the area has been lifted. Residents can check in with GSAR team on Myra Rd if they need to retrieve items from their homes & they will be escorted in.

— Halifax Fire (@hfxfire) May 24, 2020

Just before 4 p.m., Lands and Forestry provided an aerial view of the situation and the condition of the land.

Our crews took to the skies as part of ongoing monitoring and snapped some updated photos of the Porters Lake fire scene. pic.twitter.com/Rx1I6l3663

— NS Lands and Forestry (@NSLandsForestry) May 24, 2020

Return home

Around 5:30 p.m., HRM Municipal Councillor David Hendsbee confirmed an evacuation order in the Porters Lake area affected by the N.S. wildfire will be lifted at 6 p.m., and residents will be able to return to their homes.

BREAKING: Evacuation order in the Porters Lake area affected by the N.S. wildfire will be lifted at 6 p.m., and residents will be able to return to their homes. Confirmed by District 2 Councillor @David_Hendsbee.

— Allan April (@AllanAprilCTV) May 24, 2020

More fire matters

Chester

On Saturday, fire crews continued to work to contain a large forest fire that broke out Friday afternoon near Chester Grant, N.S.

"It died down overnight as humidity increases and temperatures go down,” said Hantsport Fire Department, deputy chief, Paul Maynard. “It did spark up a bit this morning. We had some concerns with the wind, but it seems to be contained now, and we're in a mop-up stage.”

The fire spread quickly and covered about 27 hectares of land, including a nearby logging operation.

"There was a logging operation up there that the fire did spread through,” said Maynard. “I'm not sure if that had any direct impact in how that fire started – certainly affects fire spread... but not quite sure where it started yet."

Two structures, which are believed to be an under-construction home and a garage, were destroyed. No other homes were evacuated, but nearby residents were put on an evacuation watch.

Nearly 22 volunteer fire departments from the Annapolis Valley and South Shore areas responded to the fire, as well as two provincial helicopters.

At around 4 p.m., Lands and Forestry announced via Twitter that the fire had been contained.

Update: Fire is 100% contained. There are eight Lands and Forestry staff on scene and eight fire tankers with 40 volunteer firefighters.

— NS Lands and Forestry (@NSLandsForestry) May 23, 2020

Officials from Land and Forestry continue to investigate the fire and its cause.

Lawrencetown

Additionally, a small structure fire in Lawrencetown, N.S., involving two sheds occurred on Saturday. Around 6:30 p.m., Halifax Fire and Halifax Regional Police responded and closed Lawrencetown Road from the 2000 block to Mineville Road.

At around 8:30 p.m., Halifax Regional Police announced roads were reopened.

Meanwhile, the entire province remains under a fire ban, with officials noting recent weather conditions have completely dried out forests in the region.