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Crews contain more than half of Porters Lake brush fire

Fire crews have contained more than half the area of a large brush fire in Porters Lake on Sunday.

In an update as of 12:30 p.m. AT Sunday, the Department of Lands and Forestry said the is still active but is now 60 per cent contained. 

“There is no active fire front,” the department said via Twitter.

Helicopters have been mapping and monitoring the fire status.

Grace and Charles Whitford were some of the first residents asked to leave Saturday afternoon as part of the evacuation order for about 170 homes along West Porters Lake Road.

“It was scary,” Grace said Sunday morning when the couple stopped into the comfort centre for evacuees in Lake Echo.

Charles first saw smoke around 12:30 p.m. AT Saturday, and within 20 minutes or so RCMP were knocking on their door to tell them they had to leave right away.

Luckily, the Whitfords had their papers and other important documents packed so they just had to throw some things together and get their cats into travel cages.

Charles said dealing with the uncertainty of where the fire is, and whether it will leave their home standing, is “gut wrenching.”

“It’s a horrible feeling. You’re just shaking all over,” Grace said.

Porters Lake fire evacuee Charles Whitford, right, said not knowing whether his home is standing is ‘gut wrenching.’ (Mark Crosby/CBC)

The Whitfords were able to stay at their daughter’s place Saturday night, who they had just recently started “bubbling” with as part of Nova Scotia’s new second-household rule due to COVID-19.

Although Charles hasn’t been able to see his property yet, he’s sure they’ve lost much of the acreage behind their house, where they source all their wood for heating it.

“We’re going to start buying wood I guess, if the house is still there,” Charles said.

Halifax Fire said 174 homes along West Porters Lake Road from Highway 107 to Marjorie Drive and Capri Drive were evacuated on Saturday. Houses south of that line were on standby.

Whether they can go back home Sunday will depend on the state of the fire, the fire service said.

The entire evacuation order impacts 1,000 people, Halifax Fire said, but that number includes people in nearby Mineville, N.S. who have not left yet but are prepared to do so if needed.

‘There has been a lot of pain’

Julia Cameron and her family knew that the fire was headed in their direction, so they were packing up their camper Saturday afternoon when firefighters came along the Old Mineville Road.

They told them to go, and “go quickly,” she said outside the Lake Echo comfort centre Sunday.

Her family stayed in their camper overnight around Lawrencetown Beach, while friends dropped off some blankets for them.

As a tight-knit rural community, Cameron said neighbours will “just step up” for each other, and she’s already had offers to stay at other houses.

Julia Cameron, an evacuee of the Porters Lake brush fire, was already packing up when fire crews arrived to tell her to evacuate on Saturday. Her family stayed in their camper around Lawrencetown Beach overnight. (Mark Crosby/CBC)

Nova Scotia has been “hit so hard” in the last month or two, Cameron said, not only with COVID-19 but with the mass shooting in April followed by the loss of five military members when a Cyclone went down, and then Capt. Jenn Casey’s death in last week’s Snowbirds crash.

“There has been a lot of pain, but people are really resilient and they’re coming together to support each other,” Cameron said.

Her home is in the middle of the burn zone, but Cameron said she hasn’t heard yet whether the house has been directly damaged.

But at the end of the day, Cameron said her family and pets are safe — “and everything else really doesn’t matter.”

Although the cause of the blaze is not yet known, Cameron and the Whitfords are concerned it might have begun from someone illegally using a backyard fire under the province-wide burn ban.

“It’s very frustrating because it causes so much disruption,” Cameron said. “It’s really affected the Porters Lake community.”

Red Cross not asked to step in

Dan Bedell, spokesperson for the Red Cross in Atlantic Canada, said Sunday via email that they agency is in contact with the province’s Emergency Management Office but has not been asked to assist any evacuees so far.

He’s been told everyone forced to leave their homes so far have places to stay with relatives or friends.

If their help is eventually requested, Bedell said they would assist in either equipping and managing a “shelter” with cots, blankets and 24-hour staffing, or arranging other accommodation in hotels.

The fire had reached about 40 hectares in size by late Saturday evening.

All crews had to be pulled from actively fighting the fire around 9 p.m. Saturday, which is the usual practice, but Steeves said the frost overnight was helpful and any fire growth was minimal.

The weather will be the largest factor in fighting the fire Sunday, Steeves said, since high winds are expected which could cause the fire to spread.

He said peak burning time is usually around noon as the humidity drops, but the fire can change drastically and quickly depending on conditions.

Steeves said so far, the brush fire has been a “dirty burn,” meaning it hopped around. It burned in patches, leaving some areas not touched that could potentially “reburn.”

The province will have 30 firefighters and overhead personnel on scene Sunday, while Halifax Fire is set to have 25 staff, Steeves said.

Two helicopters, two fire engines, and five water tankers are also on scene.

Halifax Fire district Chief Brad Connors said early Sunday morning they had two Halifax Fire crews patrolling the area all night.

He also said Halifax Fire had its drone in the air mapping “various hot spots,” so the incident commander could take that information and have certain areas to concentrate on Sunday morning.

Crews concerned about wind shifts: councillor

Area councillor David Hendsbee said Sunday morning everyone is concerned about a shift in wind.

Right now, the forecast shows a reversal of wind direction from the southwest, so hopefully that will blow the fire back upon itself, he said outside the Lake Echo comfort centre where he planned to stay throughout the day.

But if the wind direction changes again, they may need to increase the evacuation zone.

(CBC)

Hendsbee said residents are “pretty anxious,” especially those who have memories of the dramatic fire in June 2008 that burned about 1,925 hectares through a wooded area between Lake Echo and Porters Lake.

“But they’re well aware that the firefighters are here to protect them, and I hope that everybody follows the protocols and the orders that are requested,” he said.

Ground search and rescue teams and staff from the municipal Emergency Management Office were also back on Sunday morning.

Hendsbee said although residents in the evacuation area can’t return home yet, some who need to retrieve their pets are being escorted in on Sunday.

The Lake Echo Community Centre on Highway 7 has been set up as a comfort centre for evacuees to drop in for a hot drink, charge their devices and stay safe.

It closed overnight but was to reopen at 8.a.m. local time on Sunday for residents to check in again and receive updates on the fire.

The Porters Lake Community Centre has also reopened to serve as a relief station for first responders.

Roads around the fire still closed

Highway 107 remains closed between Exit 18 and Exit 20. 

Local roads in the West Porters Lake area will remain blocked Sunday to ensure residents don’t return home, Hendsbee said, and to prevent onlookers from interfering with firefighting efforts.

The province has said Lands and Forestry staff first responded to the brush fire, which began in the area just north of Highway 107, around 12:30 p.m. AT.

The fire then hopped across Highway 107 and headed south toward the Atlantic coast.

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Source: CBC Canada

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