With forests at high risk for fire in northern Ontario last week, a couple who were out for a scenic flight in their small plane became environmental heroes when they spotted a flash fire and risked their lives to save the Boreal forest near their remote cottage west of Sudbury.
Traveling to their hideaway home on Lonely Lake, Steve and Giselle Holmik veered overhead to see if friends were at their camp on neighboring Onaping Lake. They noticed forest fires in the distance in every direction.
“We suddenly sighted a huge explosion seemingly coming out of the ground near Lonely. It was just like a volcano erupting. We had just heard an announcement on the radio that there was a fire North of Wahnapitae and a smaller one to the West,” said Giselle.
Piloting their small plane, Steve scouted for a safe place to land. Taxiing by the narrows and observing the smoke, it was clear that the fire had been burning for a few days.
“With all the other fires going on, we had no idea how long it would take for the Ministry of Natural Resources to take action and the fire being near the camp, it was too close for comfort to be wondering and waiting,” says Giselle.
Forest fire in Canada is a dangerous situation at the best of times, let alone in a remote location when forests were tinder dry. Seeing no option, Steve acted quickly and calmly to get their small fire pump going, though it had not been working for a couple of years.
By the time they got to the site, there were trees going up in flames like fire crackers and Steve had to situate himself on the burned out land, still smoldering, in order to reach the flames, reports Gisele.
They determined that the fire, set by recent lightning, had tunneled into the ground. Realizing this was going to take longer that they thought, Giselle headed back to get more fuel for the water pump and a second hose. They connected the hoses and Steve continued working his way to the flames. Giselle was able to go in and start digging where he had put flames out, as it was obvious the parched earth underneath was still on fire.
Three grueling hours later, the environmental heroes had the area under control.
A fire bomber plane buzzed overhead, but realized that the couple amazingly had things under control, and moved on to other fires in the distance.
Later that evening, the couple inspected the site and found smoke and ground still smoldering. By the next morning however, the area was smoke free. That same night, a helicopter flew over Lonely, hovered a bit over the site scanning with heat sensing equipment and then took off up North.
“It was a relief to see that!” the couple relates. They flew over the area again this week, spotted fine wisps of smoke and reported it to the MNR, who took over from there.