July 31 Storm

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.

Firefighting – Upgrading Equipment

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.

The Keystone Fire Of July 2011

Coming soon - Watch for a an article on this near-tragedy.

Is Your Cottage Safe?

FOCA distributed an "Elert" on fire safety in October, 2011. Check the FOCA elerts web site and open the special June 1, 2011 editon "Is Your Cottage Safe?"

Fire West Of Canoe Pass – August 15, 2010

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. 

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The story of the August 15 fire is retold here by Dawn (Gilfillen) Thomas of Sandy Haven Camp.
The fire across from Tall Pines started during a fast and furious electrical storm that occurred around 11:30 a.m. on Sunday August 15, We saw smoke right after a long lightning strike, called 310-FIRE, and we were there within 5 minutes with 1 fire pump on the fire. But the cottage was totally engulfed. Tall Pines, Murray Thompson and Tom & Patty Donahue arrived shortly after with 2 more pumps and we tried to keep the fire from getting into the trees and kept water pouring onto the 100 lb. propane cylinder that was leaning against the cottage, Luckily it was empty and the valve was open, but George (Best) walked up to it and tossed it away from the fire. Whew, that would have been ugly! (Another good reason to have dockside propane hook up.) West Nipissing Fire Department arrived about 45-50 minutes later with 2 more fire pumps and 4 firemen. There were also several "steam plumes" coming from multiple lightning strikes on Sandy Island that were checked to make sure they would not flare up.  Later, Todd had a meeting with the WNFD Chief and asked to have a fire pump donated to the island and was told they would see if they had an extra pump that we could have on hand. We haven't heard anything back. Good high pressure pumps with 200-300' of hose are around $4000 but they make our "fire" pumps look silly against a fire of any size.

This is a list of the first responders but I'm sure there were more: Sandy Haven Camp,  Tall Pines Camp, Kevin Harley, Don Thomas, Tom & Patty Donahue, George Best, Murray Thompson, Steve Bodley, West Nipissing Fire Department (in Paul Mondoux's boat with Paul Mondoux). (All pictures were supplied by Don Thomas & Steve Bodley)

Here is the link to a picture slide show.
(Copy and paste the link into your browser if the link does not work.)
Source: Dave Minden
Posted: 10/10/2010 

A Belated Thank You From John Allison

December 10, 2009

Unfortunately we did not include this letter from John Allison in the December 2009 newsletter. We apologize for the oversight.
John writes:
My wife Helen and I would like to extend a very belated thank you for publication in the next UFRCA news letter.  In June of the summer before last our guest cottage burned down to the ground before we had arrived on The River.  It seems there was a terrible electric storm which could have caused the fire by striking nearby trees.
We want to thank Leonard Dokis, Valerie and their people involved in assisting to put out the fire as well as Roger Restoule and his people.  A special thank you to Dorian who works at Riverview who actually spotted the smoke from 5 miles away and alerted Leonard, who then got the ball rolling (I sincerely apologize if I unintentionally left someone out).
Although the building was lost, these heroic people not only saved the main cabin from destruction but also saved the rest of our island’s trees.  We are so grateful to Leonard, Roger, et al because had they not acted our island would now be a bare pile of rocks.  We just want to let the members of the association know how courageous and valuable those mentioned above are to all of us.  Thank you,
John Allison, Contentment Island
November 29, 2009