Halifax council reviews wildfire response, plans Westwood Hills emergency road

Smoke covers the sky causing silhouette over the sun above trees and road.
Council votes to proceed with plan to create emergency exit in Westwood Hills. Photo by Haeley DiRisio.
Haeley DiRisio - CKDU - HalifaxNS | 30-11-2023
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Halifax regional council passed a vote to proceed with planning an emergency road for Westwood Hills.

On Tuesday, HRM councillors saw a presentation on the lessons learned from the wildfires in Upper Tantallon last spring.

The wildfires began May 28, destroying 151 homes and forcing the evacuation of 16,000 people. The evacuation was met with criticism after seeing residents caught in long lines of traffic due to lack of exits in the subdivision. Westwood has the two minimum access points that are required to meet Halifax’s design guidelines but the report says they are close together and could create bottlenecks.

The report was commissioned in the summer and recommends that council approve a plan to go forward with engagement, planning and designing for a new emergency-only route from Westwood Hills subdivision to Highway 103

“I think we kind of already knew that this could potentially happen,” said Coun. Pam Lovelace, who brought forward the motion.

The report shows that the Emergency Management Office was underfunded and under-resourced, Lovelace said. 

During the presentation Bill Moore, HRM’s director of public safety made recommendations to HRM about enhancing training for emergency operations center (EOC). Several areas were not kept up with due to the COVID-19 pandemic, including training exercises, Moore said. “Hopefully we will start to re-establish that connection with the Emergency Management Committee through the Executive Standing Committee.”

The report also recommended identifying communities that need emergency exits.

Coun. Lisa Blackburn said the Beaver Bank community has also been flagged by the provincial government as being an extreme risk for wildfire.

“A lot of subdivisions have reached out with concerns about the fact that they are one road in one road out.”

Council is expecting reports from the city's fire department and the provincial government.

Listen to the story below: