Up to 1,200 people forced to leave their homes overnight Thursday
Last Updated: Friday, May 1, 2009. 4:13 PM Atlantic Time.
HALIFAX, NS. (CBC) -- Many of the 1,200 people evacuated as a wildfire raced toward their homes in Halifax were told on Friday afternoon that they could start returning.
Homeowner films remains of house in aftermath of Halifax wildfire.
Evacuees got the news during a briefing at the Captain William Spry Community Centre, where an emergency shelter had been set up.
Fire officials said now that the winds had calmed down and the forecast rain had begun falling, some streets off Herring Cove Road would be reopened and about 225 homes were cleared for families to return.
People who live off Purcells Cove Road, an area hit hard by the fire, were starting to be allowed to return in the company of a police officer to see the state of their homes.
Eight homes were destroyed and seven damaged as the fire spread south of the city on Thursday. No major human injuries were reported, but officials said two cats and a dog are known to have perished.
'It's kind of scary'
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."
Smoke was drifting across the Halifax peninsula and other parts of the city, CBC reporter Bob Murphy said from his morning perch on Cowie Hill in Spryfield.
"You can still see flames in certain locations," he added.
No major injuries, workers treated.
The number of homes evacuated was about 450, meaning about 1,100 to 1,200 people were affected. There were no reports of major injuries, but at least three emergency workers were treated by paramedics.
Paul Maynard, spokesman for Emergency Health Services, said they were treated overnight Thursday for breathing problems, and released.
He's surprised there weren't more people seeking help.
"It's anything short of a miracle, really. It's such a huge fire and so many people involved, and it was so fast moving that we were very, very surprised there wasn't more injuries," Maynard said.
Officials with the Capital District Health Authority, which runs hospitals in the Halifax area, said one person showed up in the emergency department with smoke inhalation problems linked to the fire.
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.
Dianne Buckner interviews Michael Smith, a Spryfield resident returning to survey the fire damage.
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."
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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