COLE HARBOUR, N.S. – Two homes have been confirmed destroyed after an out-of-control brush fire ripped through a rural neighbourhood east of Halifax and forced thousands of people to evacuate their homes.
At a news conference in Cole Harbour, N.S., fire officials said two homes had burned down and three have been badly damaged in the blaze that is now estimated to cover an area 15 kilometres long and three kilometres wide.
The RCMP also said that another 1,000 people have put on evacuation order, making it more than 4,000 people who have been forced to leave their homes.
The wide area in the Porters Lake region has been burning out of control for more than 24 hours.
“It’s hard to predict where this fire is going but I expect it to intensify as the winds increase,” said Roy Hollett, deputy chief of Halifax Fire and Emergency Services.
No injuries have been reported and officials are pleading with residents to stay away from the fire. RCMP Cpl. Joe Taplin said two people have been arrested for crossing the barriers erected around the fire.
“People are getting a little frustrated about having to evacuate,” he said.
Taplin said most people, however, are co-operative when asked to leave their homes.
“All they have to do is look and see what’s behind them and there is no issue with them packing up and getting out,” he said.
Behind them is a towering column of smoke and flame. In some areas the smoke is so intense that firefighters can’t get to the fire front. “We’re having trouble getting fire apparatus into some of these areas,” said Taplin.
Hollett said ground crews are working feverishly to protect buildings in the fire zone, while water bombers called in from New Brunswick and Newfoundland and Labrador drop water on the main body of the fire.
Heavy smoke has shut down three major highways crossing the region.
Taplin said the cause of the fire is still a mystery but investigators have begun looking for the origin. He said there is no indication the fire was deliberately set.
“Once our investigation starts we’ll work closely with fire officials and the Department of Natural Resources as well,” he said.
Wind gusts of up to 60 km/h are fanning the flames and a thick black smoke blankets the area.
Hollett said 140 firefighters attacking the fire are getting tired. Fire officials are calling for qualified volunteer firefighters from neighbouring municipalities to help contain the blaze.
But with the wind not expected to taper off until Sunday and no rain in the forecast for the next few days, it could be a long weekend for firefighters and evacuated residents facing the devastating fire.
“We are trying to push it back,” Hollett said.
Crews were told to stand down Friday night in Porters Lake, N.S., after the wind-driven blaze was considered too dangerous.
Firefighters and Halifax RCMP issued a mandatory evacuation order Friday for the Porters Lake and Lake Echo neighbourhoods.
Three evacuation centres were set up at community halls and a church to help evacuees receive food and shelter.
Halifax firefighters had asked for a voluntary evacuation of two streets on Friday. That was upgraded to a mandatory evacuation an hour later.
An elementary school was evacuated Friday afternoon when it appeared smoke would sweep over it.
Nova Scotia Power reports dozens of power outages affecting parts of Halifax Regional Municipality as a result of the fire.
Fire crews are also coping with another large fire southwest of Halifax.
But fire officials say that blaze, which forced the evacuation of two streets in the Tantallon district of Halifax Regional Municipality, is under control and should be extinguished soon.