A year after the Upper Tantallon wildfire these residents only have one escape route

The residents of some areas are still waiting for a second escape route a year after the Upper Tantallon wildfire burned through thousands of hectares and 151 homes.

On May 28, 2023, the fire that started in Upper Tantallon and Hammonds Plains spread at such a rapid pace that fire crews needed to be pulled back for their safety. 

It barreled toward the Westwood Hills neighbourhood where residents were caught off guard and scrambled to flee on one road.

Now over a year later, people are still asking for a second escape route, so in the event a fire were to threaten the community again, people could have another option.

“Can we maybe negotiate and cooperate and collaborate together and get this done? There are no excuses,” Nancy Smith, a resident of Westwood Hills told CityNews Halifax. “I want to hear the trucks in the backyard digging a hole so that they can get out through the back of this neighbourhood.”

Smith was one of 16,000 residents forced out of their homes as wildfires burned their backyards. 

There are more than 30 Halifax neighbourhoods without a second exit, also called an “egress,” Pam Lovelace, Councillor for District 13, told CityNews Halifax.

Residents fearful of the upcoming wildfire season have been asking for a second exit since wildfires last year. They worry the same scenario could play out again.

“It’s just very frustrating in the end, a year later and we still feel like we’re having a lot of the same fights and for everyone else this is over. But for us, we’re still in the middle of it,” Caroline Parker, a Westwood Hills resident, said.

CityNews Halifax reached out to the province for clarification on where in the process it is with the municipality.

“The subdivision and these roads are owned by HRM. Any egress would be a project driven by HRM,” a spokesperson from N.S. Department of Public Works, said in an email. “We are engaged in ongoing discussions with the municipality.  We currently do not have an active application from HRM, seeking permission or permit to create an egress Road from Westwood Hills onto Highway 103.”

Lovelace said the city is doing its “due diligence” to make sure where the road will go is secure.

“Last thing you want to do is put a road in place and have it flooded out,” she said. “We need to make sure that that road is going to stay in place and ensure that once it is built, that it is the fastest way and the best way for people to get out in case of emergency.”

Some areas have gotten a second exit since last summer. Now city staff are putting together criteria for the next subdivision being looked at for an egress, Lovelace said. 

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