Fires on Lac Nichicun, Quebec

The first fire (above) could be seen to the south from the campsite. Later this fire appeared to the north.

 

Photos: Alex Perkins

Command Central. Hanging watching the weather and the fires. Left to right: Owen, Booth, Carl, Alex Kozlow.  

 

On the morning of day 7, a strange cloud rolled in across the front of the sun as we were making our way towards the La Grande. It was an eerie orange shimmer on the water, all too familiar to Booth and myself, after our experience with fires on section B's 2000 trip in Labrador. 

A little more paddling revealed a dark plume of smoke billowing from the spruce forest to our west. We held up for a moment. Booth and I agreed that this fire was not an immediate threat, as it appeared to be moving away. It was, however, the result of lightning storms rolling over an extremely dry landscape, and this concerned us.

The wind picked up and smoke blew in, obscuring our view of the situation. Concerned with the high winds, we decided to tough it out on a nasty little island that night and wait for better weather.

On day 8 we left early, taking advantage of the clear sky and lack of wind. By 12 p.m. we had arrived at the abandoned post of Nitchequon. We met a bush pilot ("The Rock") who reported 8 to 10 fires to the north and west. 

It was during lunch at Nitchequon that Booth noticed something looming on the southern horizon. As a result of this, we decided we'd travel south through the safety  the center of Lac Nichicun offered (a slightly longer route). We would portage to our proposed route when we saw fit, rather than moving toward the narrower area so less safe from fire along the Nichicun River.

By the late afternoon, winds had picked up and we found ourselves in an eerie haze. We decided it was time to hole up and found the lovely and scenic "Command Central." This island offered not only an nice open site for the next five days, but relative safety from fire and an excellent view in all directions.

Not feeling we were in any danger, we waited out the next few days playing cards, developing the local transportation system, watching Hubert and Colin work on their dance moves and, for the most part, enjoying ourselves in and out of the smoke. 

During our stay we witnessed flames from fires to the south one which we actually saw ignited by lightning and counted at least eleven other fires to the west, north and east. The hot weather relentlessly continued.

After we had been on the island for four days, it was agreed that the window of time for our planned trip had been lost and the countdown on an alternative route had begun. 

Alex Perkins

We called Keewaydin on our satellite phone to let them know the situation. Doug and John went to work. By the next afternoon they had gathered a ton of good information, finding that Nemaska had been evacuated and that there were at least 50 fires known to be in our general vicinity. This was all relayed to us through a series of phone calls. Doug explained that fires were also burning in the Lac Rossignol area and near LG4, hence rendering useless our alternative routes down the Sakami and La Grande rivers. Doug decided it was time to get us out of there

In the last call on day 14, we were notified that planes would be arriving in 50 minutes, and that we were going to Labrador City, a place that Alex and I were familiar with from section B in 2000. Labrador City was chosen because the LG4 region to the north was burning and the Trans Taiga Highway was closed. Chibougamau to the southwest was socked in with smoke from the fires, so Labrador City to the east became the only option. 

We broke camp immediately. Our 150-mile-plus flight was through thick smoke, where all that could be seen from the plane was the land just below, and raging red plumes of fire in the twilight hours as we approached Labrador City.

Booth Platt

 

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