Arson suspected at one home in Halifax fires
Published Friday, May 1, 2009 6:02PM EDT
Many of the 1,100 residents displaced by a massive brush fire on outskirts of Halifax are returning to their homes.
The wildfire, which began Thursday, finally subsided after a major downpour of rain doused the flames.
"If we didn't have the rain, this fire may not be under control," Lloyd Currie, a spokesman for the Halifax Regional Fire Service, told a news conference. "We're happy that we're having this rain. We just need more of it."
There are no visible flames, but there still some "hot spots," he added.
Police announced late Friday that one of the damaged homes had been set ablaze by an arsonist, probably at the height of the fire as evacuations were underway. No other details were released.
At least eight homes were destroyed in the fire, and up to 10 were badly damaged.
About 427 homes were evacuated late Thursday, and residents were forced to seek shelter at a recreational facility in the community of Herring Cove, just south of Halifax.
More than 100 firefighters and five helicopters were enlisted to battle the blaze, which consumed about eight square kilometres.
Paul Schnurr, a Natural Resources forestry technician, said that at one point, the fire was burning through the woods at a pace of 36 metres per minute.
Officials have yet to pinpoint an exact cause of the fire, but some said an abundance of brush and remnants of downed trees from Hurricane Juan in 2003 gave fuel to the fire.
Nova Scotia Premier Rodney MacDonald toured the hot zone Friday and said he was "very impressed by the co-ordination happening. Our folks at natural resources are in the air, fighting this fire and are doing a great job."
But Currie and Halifax Mayor Peter Kelly faced some tough questions Friday as residents started asking why they were given so little notice before they were forced to evacuate.
A fire that started in the same general area on Wednesday was thought to be under control, and it was assumed it had suddenly roared back to life when the wind picked up Thursday.
Initially, fire officials scrambled to explain how they let the fire get away from them.
But by Friday, Currie suggested the fire on Wednesday was not linked to the wild inferno that emerged the next day.
"Our investigators are treating this as a separate fire," he said.
He said he couldn't explain how his investigators came to that conclusion.
"No, we didn't drop the ball on that," Currie said. "This fire moved so fast, we couldn't get around to the front of it fast enough ... We warned people as fast as we could."
The fire flared up yesterday but was thought to be under control, until winds picked up Thursday afternoon, sparking 15 metre flames that jumped from treetop to treetop.
Several evacuees recalled frightening scenes at the height of the fire. One resident said he had to drive through a wall of flames to reach safety.
With files from CTV Atlantic and The Canadian Press