On the afternoon of Friday July 31, 2015, a series of intense electrical storms passed through the area. Below are accounts of two lightning strikes and the resulting volunteer efforts to deal with them.
Lightning strike and fire at the Watkins’ cottage
Posted September 8, 2015
Contributed by Amy Watkins
On July 31, 2105, while sitting on our porch, lightning struck a tree 30 feet away from us. Flames rose immediately and we evacuated the cottage because the fire was only a couple of feet from our propane tanks. We went through the woods to my parents’ cottage to get to a phone (ours had exploded and melted from the strike). Their phone was out as well. We left our daughter and dogs to return to our cottage to see how bad things were. The flames were 6 to 8 feet high so we went into the cottage to get our passports. We heard a loud noise of gas escaping from the propane tanks that sounded similar to the noise of a jet engine. We returned to the woods again just as one of the tanks exploded, sending a fireball 50 feet into the air. We estimate the time between the strike and explosion was no more than 10 to 15 minutes. At this time, family and friends had heard and seen flames and had come to our aid.
Scott Jones from Riverview (while transporting people to Riverview) happened to be driving past, saw the flames, and was able to radio Riverview to get their fire pumps on the way to our cottage. Until the fire equipment and personnel arrived, we kept others away because of the potential for the other propane tanks to explode.
We had minor cottage damage including some siding and trim blown off with the strike. The phone lines scorched some places inside, a floor joist was blown apart where the outside box is attached, and the strike also started fires west of the cottage. One propane tank exploded, one “vented” and ignited, and the Dokis Fire Department stabilized the third tank.
We are thankful that no one was hurt.
Thank you to all our friends and family who helped out during the event – the Allison, Stanislau, Lembke, Robinson, Sumner, Kutzner, and Marcus families, and some young men from Solid Comfort. Thank you to Scott Jones from Riverview and the Dokis FD crew: Gerry Duquette, Carl Hill, Jean-Marc Ethier, and Fire Chief Brian Lariviere.
Fire Near West End of Sandy Island
It was the same day and the same storm that resulted in the fire at the Watkins’ cottage. Late in the afternoon/early evening on July 31, 2015, lightning struck the trees on an uninhabited island near the west end of Sandy Island not far from Wigwam. A neighbouring cottager noticed the smoke and called it in to Todd Thomas, the owner and operator of Sandy Haven Fishing Camp. Todd and another volunteer immediately loaded the fire pump and equipment into a boat and “attended” the fire, as they say in the firefighting business. The lightning had badly damaged one tree and the adjoining trees had begun to smoulder. The volunteers from Sandy Haven used the pump to good effect and remained on the scene to ensure there was no risk of further damage.
As UFRCA members know, Todd/Sandy Haven Camp is one of the organizations, along with Riverview Marina and the Dokis Fire Department, that cottagers call on in time of need. In Todd’s case, he coordinates his volunteer efforts with the Municipality of West Nipissing. The Fire Department there provides the water pump and other firefighting equipment and depending on the location and availability, Todd is likely to be the first responder. Todd also provides a limited emergency first response capacity. To this end, the Municipality provides him with a defibrillator, a stretcher, and a professional quality first aid kit, and Todd brings extensive training in emergency first aid.
This is the first full cottage season that this arrangement between West Nipissing and Sandy Haven (spurred on by the UFRCA) has been in place. The summer of 2014 was only a partial season due to delays in the delivery of equipment. Most fortunately, this first full season was a quiet one. Only a few fishhooks to remove, according to Todd.
But as with the team from Riverview and the Dokis Fire Department, this kind of volunteer service to our collective cottage community is not something that UFRCA members take for granted. We all appreciate that the “other side of the coin” to the River’s wild beauty is a degree of isolation and vulnerability. The UFRCA says thanks to Todd for his ongoing efforts and commitment.
At the 2011 Annual General Meeting, the UFRCA membership approved two motions passed previously by the Board of Directors to assist both Riverview Cottages and Sandy Haven in upgrading their fire-fighting equipment.
For years, Leonard Dokis has been the primary first responder to any emergency, be it medical or fire or some other situation that requires immediate attention. In the past few years, Todd Thomas has been assuming that role in the Sandy Island area. We are pleased to assist both in their capacity to fight fires more efficiently, and we continually and sincerely thank them for their prompt responses to emergency situations.
It should be noted that the response from Sandy Haven by Todd and many others to the fire on August 10, 2010 (see beloew), did not go unnoticed by the West Nipissing Fire Department. As a result of the successful efforts in containing the fire with less than professional equipment, the WNFD has provided a state-of-the-art WAJAX pump and hose that will be stored at Sandy Haven during their summer operating season.
At a recent Board of Directors meeting in November, 2011, the Board also committed to upgrading its own fire pump which is stored at Walter Harley’s cottage on Elliot Island. We will be purchasing 50 feet of additional hose for the pump.
A list of available water pumps is on the Printable Contact Sheet. See About Us / Resources.
Coming soon - Watch for a an article on this near-tragedy.
If you travel west of Canoe Pass towards Wigwam Channel and Lake Nipissing, you may have seen (or will see) a scar on the land and a burned out log cottage almost directly across from Tall Pines Camp.