Halifax government being sued for wildfire tactics

Halifax fire
The fire near Halifax, April 30, 2009. CBC photo.

In Canada, the Halifax Regional Municipality and the Halifax regional fire department are being sued because of decisions that were made on an April 30, 2009 wildfire. Insurance companies that paid out millions of dollars to the owners of eight luxury homes that were destroyed and the ten that were damaged have filed 18 lawsuits against the government agencies. Wildfire Today covered the fire HERE.

CBC News has more details about the litigation; here is an excerpt:

The insurance companies, that filed the suits on behalf of the homeowners, allege the city was negligent in how it fought the massive blaze. The fire started in a campfire pit on the west bank of McIntosh Run, north of Roaches Pond in Spryfield.

It quickly spread through the woods to Purcells Cove Road destroying eight luxury homes.

The first fire was spotted on the evening of April 29. By 8 p.m., the fire was under control, though not out. The water-bombing from above stopped and crews from the Department of Natural Resources and the Halifax fire service left for the night.

The following morning a crew was back at the scene monitoring hotspots. At 11 a.m., they decided it was safe to leave to take a lunch break. They returned to their station on nearby Herring Cove Road and planned to return to the scene later that afternoon.

But, by the time they returned, it was too late because the winds fanned a new fire that quickly spread causing havoc for several hours.

The insurance companies hired their own investigator and in the lawsuit they allege the fire department should never have left those hotspots unattended.

They also claim that once the fire spread, firefighters did not establish an effective command, that there were delays in calling in more firefighters. They also claim that firefighters went to the wrong spots and they took too long to call in helicopters from the province, all allowing the fire to destroy and damage their clients’ homes.

Halifax fire spokesman Dave Meldrum said Wednesday that the department “vehemently” denies the allegations contained in the lawsuits, and continues to “vigourously defend” the actions of the firefighters on that day.

“We’re concerned with all the allegations. We think that they’re wrong, and they’re incorrect, and we will defend them in court,” Meldrum said. “That day was a tragic circumstance. Our firefighters put themselves on the line, they worked long hours, they trained hard hours, to protect life and to protect property.”

Last month, CBC News obtained internal documents from the Halifax regional fire service that found the wildfire might have been prevented if fire crews hadn’t been delayed in returning to the scene.

An email, obtained by CBC News through a freedom of information request, says that staffing protocols may have delayed firefighters in the critical minutes before the fire flared out of control on April 30, 2009.

“I understand that the crew had to arrange for a cover and that may have delayed their return to the scene of the original fire,” Fire Chief Bill Mosher said in the email written on May 19, 2009 — two weeks after the fire.

“A cover” means the Herring Cove firefighters had to ask firefighters from other areas to come mind their station while they were away. This delay meant the crew didn’t get back to the woods before the fire flared again.

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Author: Bill Gabbert

After working full time in wildland fire for 33 years, he continues to learn, and strives to be a Student of Fire.