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Huge forest fire threatened Aikens, now all clear

Oct 13, 2011

A view from about 20 miles away from the forest fire A forest fire that started south of Bissett on October 5th quickly got out of control when South winds gusted to 90 km/h (about 55mph).  The blaze started on Wednesday morning and was being held for the first 24 hours, but the winds kicked up and started moving it a an astounding speed.  It moved the fire across the last highway in Eastern MB and proceeded to rip through pristine wilderness overnight, at some points jumping over 1/2 mile lakes and rivers!  Friday was a very hectic day as the southern part of the fire was threatening the gold-mining town of Bissett, attracting all the attention of the crews to save the town, while the northern wall continued it's barage through the dozens of miles wilderness inching ever closer to Aikens.  It was a very unsettling feeling on Friday, with knowledge that this 18,000 hectare wall of flame was moving so quickly towards us.  Reports had the flames as high as 400 feet in the air!  Smoke filled Aikens as the first 3,000 feet of airspace was unnavigable. More than 110 firefighters from MB, ON, and even BC were brought in to help fight the blaze over the weekend.   Thankfully, Saturday brought cooler temperatures and some drizzle which stagnated the growth of the fire.  Mother Nature continued to lend a helping hand to the crew and finally the blaze was contained earlier this week.  If you search the link below, you can find a Google Map of the exact location of the fire.  It is still burning today, but has not grown in size since Saturday and is now just burning itself out in the already affected area.  The wall of flame ends just North of Aikens on the Gammon River, and the fire's closest boundary lies about 10km (6.5miles) West of Aikens. We have not had any real fire threat like this since the last big fire of 1980 which burned the North, East, and South sides of the lake.  Although the previous ownership (the Lavergnes) were there at the time, Gerry Lavergne told us stories about how the tops of the trees were exploding just on the other side of the Back Bay, and that although they had waterbombed the lodge, they feared that one of these fireballs would jump the Back Bay and burn down the cabins from the backside.  The lodge had of course been evacuated but it was being used as a staging area for the firefighters that year.  You can still see some fire damage as you walk through that thick 30-year old forest.  A few tall fire-burned trees still tower over the rest of the forest, and make ideal spots for the Bald Eagles to perch (maybe that's why we see so many at Aikens!) With this previous story in mind, we are actually quite lucky with our location.  In reality, our main camp sits on a perfectly located peninsula that would be really hard for a forest fire to access.  Forest fires move quickly and dangerously with hot south winds, and we have the entire lake to the south of our camp so that is not an issue.  Our only mainland access to the North is cutoff by a huge swamp (fun fact: on really high water you can actually navigate a canoe from the Back Bay to the main lake through that swamp - only having to get out on the shore of the main lake to cross a small rocky beach).  Also, we have quite a water and hydrant system that would help soak down the cabins in no time if needed.   So, even though we are in the wilderness, we are very well protected from a fire catastrophe. A big thankyou to Manitoba Conservation and Bluewater Aviation for their quick and efficient response to this threat that had us all very concerned!  Bluewater had many moose hunters strewn about the affected area but was able to pull them all out safely before the threat was close.  We appreciate all the work the fire crews put in 24 hours a day to make sure that no one was hurt (or worse), that the last outpost of civilization Bissett was saved, and that no one lost any property.  There were several private camps and cottages that were much closer to this blaze than we were, and amazingly they are all untouched.  They say that a healthy forest needs to regenerate itself through fire every 60 years, hopefully it's that long again before we see something like this!   Next year as you fly up to Aikens, be sure to look out of the left-side windows of the otter and you will see just how big of an area this fire took down this fall!