Photo: newspaper headline on 1977 Lake Temagami fire

FIRE OF 1977

Temagami's biggest recorded forest fire

The spring of 1977 was hot and dry and an extreme fire-hazard warning had been issued for northeastern Ontario. On May 15, a bolt of lightning struck a tree on the eastern shore of Eaglerock Lake, and easily ignited the forest.

It was small by fire standards as it had only burned 95 acres by May 17. There was little wind and fire-fighting crews worked it and six other fires for the next few days as temperatures continued to rise. The Ministry of Natural Resources called it Temagami 8. On May 22, the temperature hit a record 28 C.

Photo: 1977 Lake Temagami fire

On Monday, May 24, still no rain, a fire ban was issued. Despite the blistering temperatures, the crews had all seven under control or extinguished. 

At noon that day, an unforeseen effort changed everything. Forty-four miles to the northeast of Temagami 8 in the former silver-mining town of Cobalt, a fire started in an abandoned building. With little effort, it spread into the old wooden buildings of the downtown and then to nearby homes. With lives and property threatened, fire crews and water bombers were whisked out of Temagami. Within hours, the raging fire had burned at least 130 homes, left several hundred people homeless and decimated the northern half of the town.

Photo: TLA Archives

In Temagami, the demons played. Southwest winds picked up, fanning Temagami 8 into an out-of-control inferno that raced northeast to Lake Temagami. Locals residents from the lake and members of the Temagami First Nation pitched in to fight back.

In Cobalt, the fire was brought under control, and crews rushed back to Temagami. Already the fire had scorched 4,800 hectares (12,000 acres) of pine forest. Wind shifts between the northwest and southwest played smoky havoc with the firefighters and water bombers. The fire continued to escalate, reaching its peak intensity on May 26. The North Bay Nugget dubbed it the “Temagami Monster.”

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