Many ancient religions and cultures regarded Nature as the overseer of their destiny. Nature has given the beautiful lakes and rivers stocked with varieties of fish, wildlife to inhabit the vast forests and meadows, and all the edible shrubs and fruits found within, to be used by human inhabitants at their own discretion. However, for some unknown purpose, Nature often casts a curse and destroys the gifts it gives. For those inhabitants of the wilderness areas Nature's curse is - fire.
There have been many fires within the Dore Lake area, since the settlement was established. One of the largest and most threatening fires to the communities survival occurred on May 11, 1977. This fire burned out of control for five days, destroying 7,772 acres of Dore Lake's prime commercial forest at a cost of $213,780.02. A total of 189 men brought the fire under control on May 15th. The fire was totally extinguished by June 5th and patrolling ended June 27th.
What feelings were held by those, who through years of hardships, sharing and determination, created their community only to see its possible destruction within five days. As Carol Johnson states: "The fire was not something one can describe, it was a feeling and we hope never to experience that feeling again."
Here are three accounts of the Dore Lake Fire as told by
Carol Johnson, Helen Swedberg and Marge Palmer.
Wednesday May 11, 1977 -
Hot and windy. Fire broke out behind big hill above airstrip. Two water bombers came in and they got it under control about 6 p.m. Burning in muskeg yet below hill.
Thursday May 12th -
Windy and sunny. The fire broke out again and nearly came to Dore Lake Lodge. They moved all the stuff they could. Then fire went up shore to within about one mile of Camp Carmel. Burned up the Michel roadside too. Beyond description.
Friday May 13th -
Hot and Windy; from the northwest. Brought fire back on Dore Lake Lodge. They made a supreme effort on the ground and with water bombers saved the Lodge. We (Ted, Harold, Florence and I) brought the boats stored at Camp Carmel over here. When Ted went for the last boat it was burning along the road. The smoke closed in on us tonight. Step is covered in ashes constantly.
Saturday May 14th -
Hot. The fire jumped the highway yesterday. All it needs is the right wind and we're all in trouble. Shukin's (Lodge) still stands. The fire goes where the wind blows. The sky south of us is solid black. How awesome. Wind changed to northwest in p.m. Good!
Sunday May 15th -
Cold, dull, windy. The fire is in the big gravel pit now, in "no man's land". They have it pretty well surrounded, but need rain. Not threatening anymore. We got rain and then more rain.
May 11th, 1977
Fire as it broke out crossing Michel Road and
heading to the garbage dump and Dore Lake Lodge.
May 12, fire behind Dore Lake lodge.
Supply plane at the government dock.
Taken from Husak's yard.
"The sound was eerie", says Carol Johnson.
Spring had arrived and my usual migration to Tower Beach, Dore Lake, was about to take place. On May 12th, my son Glenn, drove me out to the Lake and returned to Big River the same day. He and his wife Opal, own a hunting and fishing lodge on Dore, and they would be returning on the weekend with a load of supplies to get ready for the opening of fishing season, on the Victoria Day weekend.
May 13th was a beautiful hot day, with a brisk wind blowing from the south. I was busy getting some cleaning done before we opened up for the season. At 12:30 p.m., Len Zinovich drove into camp to see if he could have some lunch and told me a fire had started at the "Little Forks", but the Stand-By fire crew had put it out. There had been a thunder storm a night or so earlier and this probably was the cause of the fire.
At 2:30, a car drove up and Brian Cornish from Michel Lodge, two miles up the road, was in it. He said, "Get in the car! We received a call on the radio and you are to be evacuated, a fire is sweeping down this way and the helicopter will be at the air strip in one-half hour."
I put my shoes on and grabbed my purse, and then remembered, Tiger, the cat. I grabbed a rug to wrap the cat in and away we went to the strip at Michel. The helicopter wasn't at the strip when we arrived and all we could see was black smoke billowing in the sky! What a frightening sight! There were two families at Michel subdivision, who were loading some personal belongings into some boats and had made up their minds not to leave. The helicopter arrived and the cat and I were the only passengers on board.
The seriousness of the situation did not hit me till we were airborne. As we flew to South End I could see flames shooting up 50 and 60 feet, as the spruce trees ignited. It was an awesome sight. The wind velocity caused by the heat from the fire was so intense, that the water bombers were unable to fly and the fire was raging out of control.
When we arrived at the airstrip a large crowd was there; relief firemen, cooks, and spectators. Len Zinovich was at the airstrip and offered me a ride back to Big River.
When I got back home to Big River, Glenn and Opal knew nothing of the fire. We immediately had a light supper and got in the car and drove back to Dore. We went over to Bernard Johnson's and sat till 2:30 a.m. and watched as the fire roared along the east shore toward Michel Point. At one point we tried to go to Tower sub-division, but were driven back by dense smoke.
Opal and I drove back to Big River early in the morning. Glenn had stayed at the Johnson's and thought he might be able to salvage the outboard motors at least. As Opal and I rounded the curve on the Dore Road, the fire was burning on both sides of the road. The only thing to do was to drive through it as quickly as possible.
On Friday, we drove back to Dore and managed to get to our summer home. We spent a very anxious night with the smell of smoke and ash in the air. However, on Sunday as we sat having our dinner of roast goose, the wind changed and we were saved. The fire had burned to within three miles of us on one side and four on the other.
This is Marge Palmer's account of the Dore Lake Fire.
Photo's and text courtesy of Jan Palmer-Fowler.
June 13, 1995 - my husband Bernie and I drove into Meadow Lake for our groceries and were driving back to Dore Lake in mid-afternoon. As we drove east out of town we started seeing smoke from fires to the North. By the time we got to Green Lake, smoke was billowing up and we could see several fires out from the largest one.
We turned onto the gravel road 50 miles out from Meadow lake and as drove we met car after car, boats and campers driving out. It really upset me and I tried to get Bernie to stop and flag an auto to find out what was happening. He reassured me that if there was any real danger cars coming north would be stopped. As we drove on and would curve to the west, huge billows of smoke and fire seemed much closer, but as do road turned northwest it looked clear.
We drove into Dore Lake Village and stopped at the DNS office. They told us there was no immediate danger, they were watching it closely and the fire had not jumped the Sled River. They said we MAY have to evacuate, but to go to our cabin and they would keep us informed.
About 4:30, we pulled into Camp Carmel. Dick Hauser's fishing group was on the dock watching the fire at South End. We joined them, and about 4:45 the fire billowed up and started running northwest rapidly, doubling its size before our eyes and suddenly the whole northwest clear up to Anderson Hill was ablaze.
Authorities had told us we may have to evacuate, so on left our groceries aside from meat, milk and eggs in the van, and we casually began to prepare to leave. Bernie loaded his computer, printer, and disks and other writing materials into the van along with the fax, machine.
At 5:15, the RCMP drove in and said to drive down to the schoolhouse and report immediately. shoved a few clothes and our meds in the van and drove the 10 miles along with quite a few others. An officer stopped us at the airport by the windsock. He registered our names, where we were living, where our homes were, etc. We were told to go back to Camp Carmel and stay there; to report to them if we changed our location. Before they finished this, an order came to drive on up to the DNS buildings and line up to evacuate in a caravan, which we did. After 15 or 20 minutes, an officer again came and told us to go back to our cabin and stay there. We found out later that they had planned to try to drive us out, but the fire had jumped the river so it closed the road out.
We drove back to Camp Carmel. Neil and Marilyn Unrah, who were the only others besides the Hasuers at camp, had gone fishing on Anderson Hill. We didn't know where they were, but found out later that they were peacefully fishing when dark smoke suddenly came over them. Their car was in the village so they had a lot of smoke to go through to get back.
Sometime during the afternoon, Paul and Pat Giles drove into camp Carmel to their cabin. They had been evacuated from their home in Stanley Mission due to forest fires threatening. Now with as many of their belongings as possible stuffed into their camper top, their last possessions were being threatened.
We went through things a little, not knowing what we should take. We decided to have some Slim Fast and had just finished a little after six when the RCMP returned. They told us to go to Michele Lodge and evacuate this area immediately. I threw some of our clothes, hangers and all into a large suitcase, several pairs of shoes and our remaining medications. At the Lodge Louise Johnson `was just leaving, our last orders were to drive out to Verner's Point, the furthermost road on Michele Point. We drove by the boat ramp and saw some people there. Hausers came with their boat and Giles and some of the Tower Beach people congregated. Johnny Fonos was manning the radio and was requested to get the people at the boat ramp.
As Louise owned the home on the point, she made us as comfortable as possible with chairs and picnic table and even coffee. The mosquitoes were bad and I got repellent from the van and shared it. It grew quite dark and little burned pine needles along with soot came floating down. We got word that if the fire came this way we would be evacuated by helicopter.
The wind died down and about 11 o'clock the RCMP drove in and we were told to go home to bed and they would notify us if there was any change.
We came home and picked up a few more things, and lay down with our clothes on. About 2 A.M. the RCMP came in with their siren on and told us to leave for Dore Lake Village immediately. We were up and out in no time. We drove into Harry Husak's where there were many cars, vans, pickups and boats. Ted Johnsons, Florence Viden, Giles, Unnihs, Hausers and many people just milling around. They called everyone together. They had been watching the fire carefully. The fire had crossed the only road, but with the wind down, we should be ready to go immediately when they decided it would be safe.
About 5 A.M. another conference informed us that they were taking a caravan out. They gave instructions to drive right at 35 mph with lights on, not to push the car ahead, but to move steadily. So at 5:30 with RCMP car leading and one at the rear, the caravan of about 40 vehicles pulled out. It was dusty and smoky and about 4 miles down from the big hill we ran into the burned over area, black burning trees and stumps on each side and occasional blazing fires in ditches and roadsides. We drove through this for at least 4 miles, then smoke and dust most of the rest of the way out. This 40 miles took us about 1 1/2 hours.
Officers stopped each vehicle, took names of each of us, where we were going and could be contacted.
We drove into Prince Albert, planning to stay with friends there, but the heavy smoke from fires all over the north made it hard to breathe. We drove on to Hague and stopped at Ron and Lynn Friesen's. We made calls home and then rested for awhile. We drove on in to Charlie Daku's in Saskatoon so thankful for a refrigerator.
We called back and Leona Neufeld said Al had gone back in to get his equipment out if possible. He stayed and joined in helping wherever he could. They reported that the fire was 300 feet from the Carl Johnson home. (Carl was in the hospital in Meadow Lake and passed away there that week.) The fire fighters concentrated on saving Dore Lake Lodge and the houses in the village, worrying about the point later. They sprinkled water on buildings.
Al Neufeld called back. They allowed him to stay and help. Ted and Carol Johnson, Florence Viden, Ruth Durocher, Gordon, Louise Johnson and other permanent residents worked side by side with the firefighters, cooking, handling equipment, various errands and other duties. They said the fire raged all day. It was threatening Carl Johnson's and Dore Lake Lodge. They had water bombers, spotters, helicopters with baskets, 100 men and several Caterpillars. They cut Ted's power line and telephone.
The fire was terribly out of control. LaFleurs were in grave danger at Beaupre Creek and they had another 100 firefighters there. By now the fire was so thick everywhere and so smoky visibility was about zero. Finally it was decided to evacuate by boat at Dore Lake Lodge within the next 10 minutes. Suddenly the wind changed and it slowed a little.
Choppers, chemical planes, 150 firefighters from New Brunswick and Alberta. Al called and said that they were using Caterpillar tractors to widen the road from the turnoff to Blueberry Hill, One cat-driver left exhausted. He had been fighting fires 16-18 hours a day for 21 days without a break. Les Eisler called us and said the Johnson's homes were safe and it looked like the village and Dore Lake Lodge would make it. The fire had crossed the airstrip and burned back of Dore Lake Lodge but was now contained and smoldering. One report said the fire was 20 minutes away from Moose Bay. He had talked to Gary Viden who said the 3/4 inch of rain hadn't made a great deal of difference, but rain was predicted for Sunday, a 70% chance. Peter Dyck had gotten through to his cabin but had to leave to report at LaFleur's, at the Forks and to the DNS (He had permission to go in, but they greatly discouraged people from doing it. I guess Bryan Cornish and Mike Ryan came in about midnight and out at 4 A.M.
We got up and drove to Hague and had lunch with Leona Neufeld. The report was much better. We went on to Rosthern and stayed the night with Otto and Nettie Reidiger.
Went to church with Otto and Nettie and had lunch together and went back to Hague. By Sunday evening we learned we had permission to go back to Dore Lake. Carl Johnson had passed away and his funeral was to be at Dore Lake on Monday.
Up at 5:45. Ate breakfast and we were on our way. Leona Neufeld went up with us. We arrived about 10 A.M. Went to the DNS and saw Florence and to the hall to see Carol Johnson. Then we drove on home, praising the Lord for His graciousness in sparing the homes and cabins. We attended Carl's funeral at the Dore Lake Village at 2:00 P.M.