One year since the Tantallon wildfire. Here’s how the community has rebounded

A year ago on May 28, Canadians watched in horror as a wildfire consumed whole forests and destroyed people’s homes in Upper Tantallon, N.S.

The aggressive blaze forced crews to retreat and destroyed 151 homes. It forced the evacuation of 16,000 residents and changed people’s lives.

A year later, the neighbourhood looks different but the remains of the fire can still be seen, not only in the environment but in the fears of the residents.

Officials are preparing for the 2024 wildfire season to be just as difficult as last year’s historic season. Governments across Canada are preparing fire crews and ensuring emergency protocols are in place.

To date in Nova Scotia, 55 wildfires have burned about 44 hectares. 

‘It’s a moment I wish I could forget’

When Nancy Smith, a resident of Westwood Hills, closes her eyes and remembers May 28, 2023, she thinks of the normal Sunday her family was having.

She had just gotten home with her oldest son from walking the dogs, with a hint of smoke in the air. Smith thought maybe a neighbour was burning brush.

“I wasn’t really thinking anything of it,” she said.

Minutes later, her middle daughter and youngest son came “roaring” inside screaming “We have to go.”

Outside Smith saw her backyard on fire and scrambled to find two cats and the dogs and ran out with her children.

“I have a spot in the middle of my head, where flaming ash landed and burnt right down to my scalp,” she said. “It’s not a moment I would ever wish on anyone, and it’s one that I wish I could forget.”

Flash forward to today, Smith and her family are rebuilding their home and continuing to advocate for further protection measures for the neighbourhood.

“I’m just really grateful that we all got out and that no one was injured or lost their lives in the whole process,” she said. 

A community rebounds 

Caroline Parker echos the feeling of gratitude to see how the neighbourhood has grown stronger since the wildfire.

The Westwood Hills resident, and Jack 92.9 morning host, was one of many who witnessed the Tantallon wildfire sweep through her neighbourhood at a rapid pace. 

Some people were able to return 12 days later, only to find their homes gone.

Images on social media showed “towering flames” and grey smoke darkening the sky.  

Scars of the wildfire, like the burnt woods, are a reminder to those who stayed in the area.

“We were evacuated and within 5 to 10 minutes, we heard multiple homes out already gone up and up in flames,” Parker told CityNews Halifax in an interview. “It scared me to death at how fast a fire can just take away a life.”

Last year she watched a family crying at the end of their driveway as flames took over the small residential street.

Today, as she walks around her home, children are playing and houses are being rebuilt.

“It’s so rewarding, I guess, to see people getting back on their feet,” she said.

But people like Parker continue to live on edge during wildfire season.

“Anytime you smell a little bit of smoke, when someone’s having a backyard fire… it brings you back. It’s scary,” she said. ” Even in the last few weeks, we’ve had some warmer weather and we are all on edge.”

With files from CityNews’ Mark Hodgins.

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