Halifax is looking to shrink the evacuation area around the Tantallon fire as it works to confirm the number of homes lost and contact the owners.
The 788-hectare fire, burning since Sunday afternoon, has forced 16,000 people from their homes in Upper Tantallon and Hammonds Plains.
Mayor Mike Savage, speaking with reporters in Dartmouth on Tuesday afternoon, said the fire was still out of control. But the municipality is looking at reducing the evacuation area, letting some people back into their homes.
“I want to be very clear, this is still dependent on fire conditions which can change at any moment,” Savage said.
“It is our attempt to announce by nine o’clock tomorrow morning if areas can be removed from the evacuation order, and then we can attempt to return people to their homes in those areas.”
If the weather or other factors increases the spread of the fire, or creates a risk for spread, HRM won’t shrink the evacuation area, Savage said.
“We’re not sending a signal that this fire is out, we’re just saying that it’s evolving, and we recognize that there are areas that we may be able to allow people to return to,” Savage said.
In the meantime, he asked people not to re-enter the evacuation zone until the municipality decides it’s safe to do so.
“People are obviously concerned about their property or there are things that they want,” Savage said. “But there are still very dangerous areas around these houses. And we cannot have people going into communities that are not safe.”
151 homes ‘gone’
The municipality announced Monday night that it estimated 200 structures had been damaged in the fire.
“Of the 200-plus structures, approximately 151 of those were residences,” Bill Moore, HRM executive director of community safety, told reporters.
Halifax Regional Fire and Emergency Deputy Chief Roy Hollett further clarified that all of those homes are “gone.”
“That’s our number, that’s an assessment. There may be more when we visit the sites,” Hollett said.
After the media availability, the municipality released a map showing the area most affected by the fire, where those 151 homes are located.
Moore said the municipality is publishing the map for two reasons. First, to reassure people outside the dark yellow area that the municipality believes their homes are “in good shape.” And second, to try to make contact with people with homes in the area with the most damage.
The municipality is asking anyone evacuated, but especially those people within the worst hit area identified on the map, to call 311 and register.
“We’ll then be making contact with the affected residents that have potentially have damaged or lost their residence. And then from there, we will be giving them directions to set up a meeting with with us tomorrow. And then hopefully, if things work out well, we will also make arrangements for them to get into the zone to be able to look around.”
Moore said the meeting would happen at the evacuation centre at the Canada Games Centre, with grief counsellors on site.
Chief administrative officer Cathie O’Toole said 4,000 people evacuated have called 311 to register, and urged more people to do so.
“It’s urgently important because our normal mode of communication with people is via mail,” O’Toole said.
“We do not have good data on either up to date home phone numbers or cell numbers, so we need people to call in and register so then we’ll be able to direct call them and talk to them about their property, if they’re one of the affect properties.”
For people looking to help those affected by the fire, the municipality announced on Tuesday that the United Way has launched the United Way Wildfire Recovery Appeal. People can donate here.
Response to Examiner reporting
Officials also responded at Tuesday’s briefing to the Halifax Examiner’s reporting on a 2021 auditor general report into a lack of communication before Halifax Regional Fire and Emergency and the municipality’s planning department.
As Tim Bousquet reported Monday, the fire department told the auditor general two years ago that three subdivisions evacuated during the Tantallon fire “were built without appropriate fire safety specifications, such as inadequate water sources to fight fires.”
“Water supply was not an issue” on Sunday night, Hollett told reporters.
Hollett said there are dry hydrants, connected to lakes as there is no municipal water in the area, in the affected neighbourhoods.
O’Toole said the hiring process for four “specialist positions to address concerns raised in the Auditor General’s Fire Prevention report” was still underway.
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