Big fires can happen here

With television, messaging, and “YouTube” available to all of us, we immediately can feel the force and wonderment of Mother Nature.
On Rainy Lake, we have watched winds blow ice from one shore to another—often sliding up shores and toppling tall red and white pines.
We have witnessed the ice shearing off and moving huge rock-filled cribs as if they were small boxes of rock.
We have watched as videographers have filmed giant funnels roaring across prairie fields, sucking up vehicles and tearing roofs and buildings as if they were nothing, leaving fields of scattered, shredded garbage.
But this past week, the world witnessed the power of fire as it ripped through Fort McMurray, forcing 90,000 to flee the northern Alberta city.
The videos and the pictures of the convoys moving along Highway 63—with flames shooting 100 feet into the air—will be long remembered by all Canadians.
When I began my journalism career, I was flown into the Ignace fire that was every bit as big as the one in Alberta.
The heat and the winds had the fire running across the tops of trees far ahead of the flames on the ground.
Firefighters often were abandoning pumps and hoses, and often were being evacuated to safer areas to begin afresh a new stopping area.
It wasn’t until the winds dies, the temperatures dropped, and 10 days of drenching rain occurred that the fire became contained.
Human resources then began a summer of clean-up following in behind the fire, dousing flare-ups and hot spots.
Fort McMurray is much different. It is estimated that 20 percent of the homes have been burned or damaged beyond repair.
As I write this column, helicopters and waterbombers still were focusing on saving hospitals, schools, and much of the business section of the city.
The 90,000 evacuees will begin learning the fate of their homes this week.
For many, it may be months before they can return to the city, waiting for temporary homes to be hauled in, and it may be years before their homes will be reconstructed.
We might wonder if this could ever happen here in Rainy River District. Well, it can happen—and it has.
In the fall of 1938, around Thanksgiving weekend, the Dance fire began.
Our newspaper accounts of families in the Dance area stated the fires were shooting more than 200 feet into the air and shooting across the tops of the trees.
Seventeen people died before the fire ran out of power.
The great fire of 1910, originating in northern Minnesota, jumped the Rainy River near Rainy River and roared east—consuming huge swaths of forests.
The Beaver Mills sawmill was destroyed while Baudette and Spooner were burned to the ground.
A train manned by Rainy River citizens was backed over the river, and citizens of the two U.S. communities filled boxcars and were pulled to safety.
The death toll in the district was large and many children of the district became orphans.
Today, a single surviving white pine from before the fire still exists at Caliper Lake Provincial Park.

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