1. Tantallon fire: latest update
This item is written by Tim Bousquet and Philip Moscovitch
In briefings with reporters, Deputy Fire Chief Dave Meldrum gave updates on the status of the Tantallon Fire.
He said the fire is “out of control,” which means there is no containment hose line establishing any portion of a perimeter. However, after the fire area expanded Sunday, late Sunday night the wind reversed, coming from the north, so there wasn’t further expansion towards Sackville.
There was a fear the fire could spread to the south Monday, but that didn’t happen. Firefighters put their efforts into protecting structures and addressing hot spots. At nightfall, firefighters were pulled from the woods for their safety, but not from roads.
The worry is that today is forecast to be much warmer than yesterday, and the wind has shifted back to southwesterly, which could again threaten the northern neighbourhoods in the evacuation zone.
Dave Steeves of the Department of Natural Resources and Renewables said that one concern for today is reburn. Because the fire tore through the area so quickly on Sunday, it left a lot of potential fuel behind as it “hopscotched” from one spot to the next. While that fuel did not burn, the heat has cured it, meaning if the fire heads back that way again, the material is likely to catch fire quickly.
Steeves said the possibility of reburn is one of the reasons evacuees are not allowed to return to their homes yet, and that one of the key areas firefighters will focus on today is “structure protection.”
2. Two-hundred homes may have been lost
An initial assessment based on observations by first responders indicates that “approximately 200 homes or structures have been damaged” in the wildfire raging through Upper Tantallon a Halifax media release says.
Officials had previously been more conservative in their estimates, first saying there were 10 or more homes lost. Premier Tim Houston said “dozens” were lost during a news conference earlier on Monday.
The fire, which started in the Westwood Hills subdivision on Sunday afternoon, was still out of control Monday night. The size of the fire stayed the same throughout the day Monday, at about 780 hectares.
In addition to the fires in Shelburne County and Tantallon, firefighters have also been battling a blaze near Chester, that destroyed a home on the weekend.
Meanwhile, a news release from the province on Monday says the Barrington Lake wildfire in Shelburne County remains out of control, and is being fought by 40 volunteers and 40 DNRR staff. The release says “some structures have been destroyed and others are threatened, but there are no firm details on the numbers yet.”
In Monday’s Morning File, Tim Bousquet wrote about the need for a centralized source of reliable emergency information, including maps, and this release from the province helps to drive home that point. It guides people to halifax.ca for information on the Tantallon/Hammonds Plains fire, and to a Facebook page for emergency updates on the Shelburne fire. To the city’s credit, there is a big blue button to hit for fire information right at the top of the page. Contrast this with the province, which has nothing on its homepage about the fires.
3. Two years ago, Halifax’s Auditor General said subdivisions were not built with adequate fire protection
The Indigo Shores, Westwood Hills, and White Hills subdivisions were all evacuated Sunday, with heavy damage to some areas. In 2021, Halifax Fire told the Auditor General those subdivisions “were built without appropriate fire safety specifications, such as inadequate water sources to fight fires.”
The September 2021 report from Auditor General Evangeline Colman-Sadd focused primarily on Halifax Fire’s fire inspection program. One section of the report, however, is subtitled “Other Audit Matters — Poor Communication between Halifax Fire, and Planning and Development.” It reads:
Halifax Fire management told us certain subdivisions were built without appropriate fire safety specifications, such as inadequate water sources to fight fires. Specific subdivisions of concern include: Indigo Shores Subdivision in Middle Sackville, Westwood Hills Subdivision in Upper Tantallon and White Hills Subdivision in Hammond Plains.
Planning and Development management told us they were not made aware of these concerns. They also said they seek Halifax Fire’s input, but do not require it. The expectation is that Halifax Fire will communicate whether they want to be involved in the review of a subdivision application.
We reviewed the initial approvals of these subdivisions. In two cases there was evidence the application was provided to Halifax Fire for review but only one had documentation of Halifax Fire’s feedback. A Halifax Fire staff member involved in the review of the Indigo Shores Subdivision in 2005 expressed concern around the lack of water resources and suggested considering a dry hydrant. However, there is no documentation indicating why this was not a requirement for the subdivision…
Halifax Fire senior management told us inadequate water sources are being addressed through a capital project to install and maintain dry fire hydrants in subdivisions that require them. However, there is no list with plans for when and where dry hydrants will be installed.
Dry hydrants are provisioned by water from lakes, rather than city water. They are used in areas that are not on the municipal water supply.
At the Tuesday morning briefing, Dave Steeves of DNRR said inadequate water was not an issue on the first day of the fire, simply because it was moving so fast, but that in general, ensuring there is an adequate water supply in subdivisions is a concern.
Yesterday morning, Suzanne Rent and Zane Woodford published a sort of one-stop-shop piece on the Tantallon fire, with information on comfort centres, sheltering pets, compensation for evacuees, and details on the fire’s origins on Juneberry Lane in Westwood Hills, and how it spread.
From the story:
Meldrum said firefighters worked for eight hours or more Sunday afternoon into the night.
“That’s not our preference. We like firefighters to work for four hours, we bring them in, make sure they get nutrition, hydration, a little bit of rest, and then we get them out there for another cycle,” Meldrum said.
Capt. Brett Tetanish, with the Brooklyn Volunteer Fire Department, told reporters it was the worst fire he’d ever worked on.
“You don’t see fires like this in Nova Scotia. You see them in Alberta,” he said.
“Driving in last night was just surreal, driving on Hammonds Plains Road with fire on both sides of the road, structures on fire, cars abandoned and burnt in the middle of the road.”
Tetanish said he didn’t want to risk of any his crew, and they were able to safely save several structures. He said it was “an emotional roller coaster.”
5. Wildfires and animals
About a dozen years ago, I remember being in a Tantallon vet’s office in the middle of the night. As the vet pulled dozens of quills out of our dog’s muzzle, she talked about wars and disasters, and how “nobody thinks of the animals.”
Fortunately, many people do think of the animals. One of them is Hope Swinimer, of Hope for Wildlife. Swinimer spoke to Suzanne Rent yesterday about the immediate and longer term effects of fires on wild animals. Rent writes:
“…Many of the wild animals will die of the fire, but it’s the going forward that’s going to be difficult for a lot of nature,” Hope Swinimer said in a phone interview with the Halifax Examiner Monday afternoon. “We are going to see an abundance of wild animals at our doorstep maybe moreso than we ever have in our past.”
Swinimer said in a wildfire, many of the animals that perish are the slower moving wildlife such as porcupines and nestling birds…
Swinimer said the animals that do make it out of the fire may have smoke inhalation, oxygen deprivation, heat exhaustion, dehydration, and other serious issues.
“People don’t often think about it but the biggest impact for the wildlife is after the fire has moved out of the area. They have to figure out a new place to live, a new food supply, shelter, fresh water. There’s lasting effects for up to a year or two or more after a fire goes through because the terrain will change,” Swinimer said.
Swinimer tells Rent there are likely to be more animals by the sides of roads in the days ahead, and drivers should be extra careful. In the story, Rent also discusses efforts to reconnect pets from areas affected by the fire with their owners.
6. Police killed a man in Dartmouth on the weekend, and we don’t know much else about it
Neither Halifax Regional Police nor the Serious Incident Response Team (SIRT), which is now tasked with investigating the shooting would say much about what happened. But Woodford spoke to a witness who lives nearby:
He said an officer pulled into the parking lot at the ball field and then back out and blocked the road. That officer pulled out a rifle. Another officer showed up right after.
“And he jumps out with his gun out,” the man said.
A third officer arrived from the other side of the field, and also drew a pistol…
He saw a man wearing a winter coat with the hood up. The man put his hands up, and then lowered them. He didn’t see a weapon.
The officers each fired a shot, three total, the man said, with the officer with the rifle shooting first.
I want to take a moment to compare Woodford’s headline and lead to what I saw in other local media outlets. The headline and lead both say police “shot and killed a man.” This is undeniably true. Whatever the circumstances may be, the fact is that police shot and killed a man.
But somehow, it remains difficult for some to use this kind of clear language when reporting on events like this. It seems to me that we have turned the corner on “police-involved shooting.” (Although I see the Globe and Mail used “police officer-involved shooting” yesterday.)
But we need to go further and be more clear. CBC Nova Scotia ran the headline, “Man dies after being shot in encounter with Halifax Regional Police.” SaltWire ran with “Man dead after allegedly confronting police with weapon in Dartmouth.” It’s subtle, but these headlines force us to read between the lines and remove agency from the people pulling the trigger(s). The SaltWire story began, “A man was shot and killed after police say he confronted them with a weapon in Dartmouth on Saturday morning.”
Again, compare this with Woodford’s sentence: “Halifax Regional Police officers shot and killed a man…” This is the undeniably true part of the story. We have only the word of the police that he was armed, if he was armed we don’t know what the weapon was. What we do know is the thing that should be reported clearly. The police have tremendous power. They are allowed to kill others. Recognizing that clearly and not obfuscating it even slightly is important.
7. Rick Perkins’ bogus ‘Chinese control’ claims
Because of the fire coverage, Stephen Kimber’s regular Monday column got bumped to today. But it is worth the wait.
When I saw last week that Conservative MP Rick Perkins, who represents the riding of South Shore-St. Margarets, was making wild accusations of Chinese control of the local lobster industry, I told colleagues this was “some of the stupidest shit I’ve ever read.” I mean, as Tim Bousquet pointed out Friday, the province has spent years courting the Chinese market for lobsters.
Kimber writes about why this kind of baseless, unfounded rhetoric — you could argue the word “lies” is appropriate — is dangerous, and wrong to boot:
These are explosive allegations, especially when piggybacked on top of the current debates in this country over Chinese attempts to interfere in our elections and threaten the relatives of Canadian MPs.
But the real question is this: are these accusations justified?
Short answer: no. Longer answer: read Kimber’s piece.
8. Big Tobacco settlement
To mark World No Tobacco Day on May 31, the Canadian Cancer Society, Canadian Lung Association and Heart & Stroke are asking that a significant portion of settlement funds be earmarked for reducing tobacco use and improving public health.
“The lawsuits pursue claims for unparalleled wrongful industry conduct that for decades has addicted youth, has caused vast devastation through disease and death, and has contributed considerably to the crisis in the health care system,” the organizations said in a media release Monday.
“US state governments achieved measures to reduce tobacco use in similar lawsuits settlements in 1998. The health organizations state in their letter that Canadian provinces can — and must — do far better in 2023.”
9. Friday roundup
The Examiner published three stories on Friday, which did not get a mention in Monday’s Morning File because of the fire coverage. Unfortunately, I am going to give them short shrift today too because of time constraints, but you should read them.
- Suzanne Rent has a lovely essay on what she has learned while learning to ride horses — and how it’s all about training the rider, not the horse.
- Zane Woodford writes about Coun. Pam Lovelace’s resignation from the Peggy’s Cove Commission, but also about how the makeup of the commission doesn’t actually allow her to resign.
- Woodford also writes about a shelter in Dartmouth closing, and what that means for residents.
A journalist reflects on how his reporting helped put people in prison
Micah Loewinger has been reporting on far-right movements for radio station WNYC (producers of On the Media) for years now. Loewinger spent a lot of time monitoring the walkie-talkie app Zello, and reporting on what he heard there in the runup to the Jan. 6 insurrection in Washington, D.C.
Last week Oath Keepers leader Stewart Rhodes was convicted of seditious conspiracy for his role in the events of Jan. 6, and sentenced to 18 years in prison. Loewinger’s reporting formed part of the trial, and Loewinger himself testified.
On the most recent On the Media podcast, Loewinger talks about his role in the trial, how he tried to avoid having to go to court, and his feelings on seeing his reporting being used to help lock people up.
Loewinger’s involvement with the legal proceedings began after he appeared on 60 Minutes to discuss his reporting:
An assistant United States attorney, one of the prosecutors spearheading the Oath Keepers criminal cases at the time, reached out to me to tell me he had seen me on TV and he wanted to talk on the phone about the Zello tape. I thought maybe if I got this guy on the phone, I might be able to glean some useful information about the investigation that would help my own reporting. Maybe even a juicy scoop. I wasn’t interested in giving him the Zello tape. I don’t believe journalists should work with law enforcement in any capacity. When I responded saying I could make time for a chat, he replied, saying that he had forgotten to mention that the lead FBI agent was also interested in speaking with me. I got Light-headed reading this the FBI. My fear was that they would come up with a reason to take my phone and computer, you know, use the Zello stuff as a pretense to get access to all my interviews and notes related to the insurrection. I had done my job, I thought, and now it was time for the FBI to do their job, without me.
After consulting with colleagues, Loewinger figured the best way to extricate himself from this situation, was to just upload his raw recordings so that anyone could access them. If the FBI wanted to download them from SoundCloud, they could go ahead. The material didn’t include any interviews Loewinger had done, or name sources whose identities he should have been protecting. It was just what he had recorded off Zello.
Things weren’t that simple:
It turns out just having access to the audio wasn’t enough for the Justice Department to play the tape for the jury as evidence in the Oath Keepers criminal trial. The government needed somebody to take the stand and verify its authenticity. As the person who made the recording, I was the only one who could do it. When the DOJ asked if I would testify voluntarily, my lawyer declined on my behalf, pointing to the importance of journalistic independence.
So he was subpoenaed.
Loewinger considered fighting the subpoena. One of his concerns was that if right-wing sources thought he was a government stooge, none of them would ever speak with him again. But some of them already thought that anyway. And since he was not protecting the identity of a source, “going to jail would be a pointless stunt.” Another of Loewinger’s worries was that the FBI or the prosecutors would get a lot of information off his phone. I was fascinated to see that even as well-informed and seasoned a reporter as him was shocked by how much information they could get, even without having his device:
It was the back end of my years using the app. They had a list of users I had messaged on the app, a list of the exact moments to the minute I had Zello open on my phone in the days leading up to January 6th. Maybe I should know better, but I was shocked to see just how easy it was for the government to access some of the personal data related to my reporting.
I thought Loewinger’s final thoughts about the whole thing were interesting, and a good reminder of the real-world consequences of our work as journalists. When he started reporting on groups like the Oath Keepers, he was doing his job. And his job is not to help law enforcement. But, despite what he would have wanted, that’s where his reporting took him, albeit very reluctantly. Here’s what he had to say after he talked about the lengthy sentences handed out to Rhodes and Jessica Watkins:
Seeing my reporting factored into this cold hard math has left me with complex feelings. I believe there should be consequences for the illegal and anti-democratic violence that took place on January 6. But I also think our criminal justice system is deeply flawed. It’s often racist and deeply cruel and often fails to rehabilitate people I’m really proud my work had an impact, and I could help show America what the militia movement really represents. But I didn’t get into this line of work to play such an active role in locking people up. I realize now I was kind of naive. I wanted to believe the endgame of journalism is truth. But sometimes it’s prison.
Walk around Japan
Perhaps you are feeling tired and stressed. There’s a lot of smoke in the air, so you are staying in doors. You could do worse than head to this Japan walkaround website, select a city, and follow along on a walk. The image above is from Hiroshima.
In the harbour
05:30: Siem Cicero, car carrier, arrives at Autoport from Jacksonville, Florida
06:30: Algoma Mariner, bulker, arrives at Pier 26 from Montreal
07:00: Island Princess, cruise ship with up to 2,657 passengers, arrives at Pier 22 from Fort Lauderdale, Florida, on a 17-day cruise from Fort Lauderdale to Southampton, England
10:30: One Blue Jay, container ship (145,251 tonnes), sails from Pier 41 for New York
11:30: Siem Cicero sails for sea
12:00: One Hawk, container ship (145,407 tonnes), arrives at Pier 41 from Norfolk, Virginia
12:00: X-press Irazu, container ship, arrives at Pier 42 from Lisbon, Portugal
13:00: NYK Demeter, container ship, sails from Fairview Cove for Fort Lauderdale, Florida
15:00: Atlantic Star, container ship, arrives at Fairview Cove from Liverpool, England
16:30: Island Princess sails for Reykjavik, Iceland
23:30: X-press Irazu sails for sea
22:30: Atlantic Star sails for New York
08:00: Arctic Lift, barge, with Western Tugger, tug, sail from Aulds Cove quarry for sea
08:30: Zaandam, cruise ship with up to 1,718 passengers, arrives at Sydney Marine Terminal from Halifax, on a seven-day cruise from Boston to Montreal
15:30: Sonangol Kalandula, oil tanker, sails from EverWind for sea
17:30: Zaandam sails for Charlottetown
I sometimes think I am overly cautious about fire, but that’s a lot better than the opposite approach.