Halifax wildfire controlled, most evacuees going home

Halifax wildfire controlled, most evacuees going home

1 May 2009

published by www.cbc.ca

Canada —

Most of the 1,200 people forced to flee their Halifax homes returned on Friday — some having to face the damage and destruction caused by a wildfire that tore through their community.
The foundation is all that’s left of one home off Purcells Cove Road. (CBC)Fire officials credited the daylong rainfall for helping get the fire under control.

An evacuation order remained for only three streets, meaning about 40 homes of the 427 that had been evacuated remained off limits. But more people were expected to return later in the evening.

Eight homes were destroyed in the fire and another 10 damaged. No major human injuries were reported, but officials said two cats and a dog are known to have perished.

The CBC’s Brian Dubreuil said he spoke with one family who returned to find their home destroyed.

“They told me they could see the ruins still smouldering and there was areas of the forest, the grass around their home that still had flames around it,” Dubreuil said.

Resident Michael Smith, whose own house escaped the flames, told CBC News that he was amazed that more homes weren’t damaged.

He said he had mixed feelings about that because three of his neighbours’ homes were destroyed.

“They’re all burned to a crisp. They’re all gone. There’s nothing there. Why our house was spared, I have no explanation,” he said, although he speculated it may have been because there were no trees close to his home.

Police announced late Friday that one of the damaged homes had been set alight by an arsonist, probably at the height of the fire as evacuations were underway. No other details were released.

‘It’s kind of scary’

The view of the fire from a helicopter at 10 a.m. Friday. (CBC)Early Friday morning, police were going door to door on Purcells Cove Road, near the Royal Nova Scotia Yacht Squadron, ordering more families to get out of the area as the fire closed in.

Harriette King was told she had 10 minutes to leave.

“We got packed up last night when we knew there was a slight possibility we would have to go,” said King. “I live on the ocean side of Purcells Cove Road, so it’s kind of scary.”

Neighbours’ homes gone

Sonja McVeigh was anxious to see the state of her home. McVeigh, her husband and their 10-month-old baby fled the flames Thursday afternoon.

McVeigh said her husband spoke with a police official, who told him their house was the only one untouched on Aaron’s Way off Purcells Cove Road.

“It’s unbelievable,” McVeigh said. “The fire chief even said that sometimes this happens, that the fire literally jumped the road, went around our house and apparently it’s unscathed. But we are thinking of our neighbours and it’s surreal.”

The fire lights up the Halifax skyline on Thursday. (CBC)Don Fox, with Halifax Regional Police, said officers were patrolling the area as a security measure.

The fire started Thursday afternoon in the Spryfield area and shifted toward Purcells Cove Road. Initially, about 300 homes were evacuated.

The fire came up quickly on Brett Ryan’s home on Fortress Drive, near Purcells Cove.

“Within five minutes it had gone from being just thick dark smoke to actually flames 60 feet (18 metres) in the air coming up over the houses across the street from us,” Ryan said.

The family got out quickly, but not before grabbing some photographs, son Quinn’s baseball glove, the dog, and two pet rats.

“We literally got out with our lives. Like if I’d been three minutes later, I wouldn’t have got up that road,” Ryan said.

As fire officials declared an evacuation zone several kilometres wide, police threw up roadblocks, leaving some angry family members on the outside.

“They didn’t even know they were supposed to get out,” one man yelled out to police at Williams Lake and Purcells Cove roads. His home was 200 metres inside the evacuation zone. The officer told him he couldn’t go in to be with his children.

“This is an emergency situation,” the officer responded.

Fire officials aren’t saying what caused the fire, but they said it spread quickly due to wind gusts and dry fallen brush caused by Hurricane Juan in 2003.

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