Fire crews extinguish ‘Santa’s runways’ in Sackville on Christmas Eve

A beloved Christmas tradition in Lower Sackville, N.S., for the past 20 or so years that saw hundreds of candles lined up on the sides of a few streets to serve as ”Santa’s runways” was shut down by fire crews on Christmas Eve this year after a complaint from a resident.

The tradition attracts hundreds of families to visit Tillock Drive, Tillock Court, Prince Street and McDougall Avenue every year to check out the lighting display. Families run into old friends and make news ones as they walk through the neighbourhood, which is near the Sackville Sports Stadium.

“I was shocked. I was sick to my stomach,” said Chad Lindsay about the candles being extinguished, which he referred to as “Santa’s runways.”

He runs a popular local Facebook page that looks at life in the community, both its past and present. Lindsay was so bothered by what happened that he posted a video to Facebook sharing his thoughts. The video has been viewed more than 13,000 times since Tuesday.

“I think we are a community that is steeped in tradition and we enjoy those traditions and obviously, when someone comes along and tries to take those away, yeah, your natural reaction is to get angry,” said Lindsay.

Outraged residents have been posting comments on social media about what happened.

Sheldon Bisson started the practice after getting the idea from a relative who was doing the same thing in Lindsay, Ont. This year, he had about 250 candles set up, which are made by using a wooden base, attaching a two-litre pop bottle to it and placing a 7½-inch candle inside of it.

Bisson, 70, started the tradition as a way of giving back to the community. He’s called Sackville home for 44 years and said kids loved the candle display.

“Some of them thought that Santa would find them because of the candles on the street,” he said.

On Monday night, Halifax fire crews were dispatched to investigate after a resident complained about a possible fire hazard from the display.

Why fire crews shut down the display

Greg Hebb, the acting district fire chief for the area that includes Sackville, said firefighters determined the candles posed a safety hazard and that some of the plastic was melting.

“It was only a matter of time for some of them to catch fire,” he said. “They could have caught brush on fire. A lot of them where cars had been parked besides them.”

Hebb said where the plastic bottles were mounted on a wooden base, if the plastic caught on fire, the wood would also catch fire.

He said the reason the tradition wasn’t shut down before was because fire crews hadn’t received any complaints about the practice.

“The fire department doesn’t just drive around neighbourhoods looking for things to do or fire hazards on Christmas Eve,” said Hebb.

‘I’ll get over it,’ says resident who started the tradition

When fire crews determined there was a safety hazard, Bisson and firefighters extinguished the candles. Bisson said he understands the firefighters were just doing their jobs.

Hebb said if a non-combustible container such as glass was used instead of plastic, there would be no fire hazard.

Bisson hopes to make some changes to resurrect the tradition next year.

“It is very emotional for me now, but I’ll get over it and hopefully something positive will come out of it,” he said.

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