FIRE OF 1977

Temagami's biggest forest fire

Photo: 1977 Lake Temagami fire, water bomber

Photos: TLA Archives

Carol Cochrane sat helplessly in a boat on Lake Temagami and later wrote in the Temagami Times: “As I watched, dozen of fingers of smoke crept out to the shoreline and here and there flames leaped up momentarily, and then seemed to die down…one point of land seemed suddenly to virtually explode as, in seconds, hundreds of trees burst into a holocaust.”

The Temagami First Nation, which resided on Bear Island in the centre of the lake, had already prepared to evacuate. The band owned a drive-on barge, but it did not have a working engine. Chief Gary Potts decided that they could load people onboard and set it adrift. Alex Mathias remembered that while they waited to evacuate elderly Florence Becker dashed around, putting out fires as burning crowns and sparks drifted over the water and landed.

Rita O’Sullivan, the cook at Ojibway Lodge (at Camp Keewaydin) on Devil's Island, which lay in its path, watched with fear as flaming embers passed overhead. The mainland and the island were only 30 feet apart and she knew if the east side caught, so would the island.  

Firefighters could do little to deal with the fire directly, so they worked to contain it on one side of the lake. As fire rained down, planes would bomb any that took hold on across the arms of the lake, or crews would be dropped to race through the underbrush to douse them while still embryonic. They didn’t always win as the fire jumped Obabika Inlet and the Northwest Arm. Three islands with cottages burned: one on Eye Lake, one in Gibson’s Bay and the Carpenter family's in Devil’s Bay. 

On May 29, the fire stopped spreading as winds died down. Only on June 2, did the first of the rain come, robbing it of its strength, though the Monster continued to smolder for weeks. Bear Island did not set the barge adrift. 

Photo: 1977 Lake Temagami fire, smoke along shore

The fire had raged for 18 days, but was not officially designated out until August 9.  It took 11 water bombers, 7 helicopters, 13,000 gallons of retardant, 851,000 gallons of water, 50 pumps, 100,000 feet of hose, and 250 firefighters in 36 tent camps to eventually subdue.

Temagami's largest recorded fire had consumed 10,927 hectares (26,990 acres), an area equal to all fires across Ontario in 2001.

Sources: MNR, North Bay Nugget, The Temagami Experience, Temagami Times, TLA Archives, Rita O'Sullivan, Dan Carpenter Jr., Alex Mathias 

<< Previous    Pages:   1   2   3 (Map)   4   Next >>

   Home   Rupert Battle   Rupert River   Temagami   Che-Mun

    Forum   Crees   Camps   Canoes   Keewaydin Way   Search   About   Contact Us

Maps and information herein are not intended for navigational use, and are not represented to be correct in every respect. 
All pages intended for reference use only, and all pages are subject to change with new information and without notice. 
The author/publisher accepts no responsibility or liability for use of the information on these pages. 
Wilderness travel and canoeing possess inherent risk. 
 It is the sole responsibility of the paddler and outdoor traveler to determine whether he/she is qualified for these activities.
Copyright © 2000-2014 Brian Back.  All rights reserved.
We do not endorse and are not responsible for the content of any linked document on an external site.