‘Holy smokes!’ Wildfire leaves roadside shrine untouched

Violet Camsell-Blondin was driving N.W.T.’s Highway 3 this week when she noticed something odd. In the midst of a burnt-out forest, a small roadside shrine was untouched. ‘I said, this can’t be. Holy smokes! I said.’

A roadside shrine on N.W.T.'s Highway 3 was spared from a fire that jumped the road

Violet Camsell-Blondin was driving N.W.T.’s Highway 3 this week when she noticed something odd. In the midst of a burnt-out forest, a small roadside shrine was untouched.

“I said, this can’t be. Holy smokes! I said.”

The shrine consists of three small statues on a wooden table. (Violet Camsell-Blondin)
A fire was still smouldering along the edges of the highway when Camsell-Blondin was travelling from Edzo to Fort Providence — a route that’s frequently been closed due to wildfires — when she came upon the shrine.

“I always look out for it,” she says. “There’s a table that has three statues on there and I know in the past, people had made some offerings. I wondered if it was lost and ruined and destroyed in the fire.”

Not so.

When Camsell-Blondin spotted the shrine, she ordered her niece to pull over.

“Untouched!” she says. “Nothing happened to it.

“Everything around it is burnt except that little narrow path. I said, Holy smokes! I said. We need to stop here and we need to say a prayer.”

After the fire. 'Untouched!' (Violet Camsell-Blondin)
​Camsell-Blondin and her niece got out to pray and take photographs, which she later shared on Facebook. She’s not big on social media, she says, but these were photos she felt a need to share.

Already, the photographs have drawn some negative comments, with some saying the path was preserved because of a sidewalk that used to cover it.

In an email to CBC News, Judy McLinton, spokesperson for N.W.T.'s Department of Environment and Natural Resources, said firefighters did not have the chance to protect the area around the shrine before the fire moved through the area.

She added that fire personnel reviewed the photo and suggested the area looks boggy, and was probably a spongy wet trail when people walked on it in the spring, and the ground vegetation and duff layer retained moisture. That may have stopped the surface fire from advancing towards it.

Fire personnel also said it looked like a low to moderate intensity fire went through the site and without dwarf birch or willows within a few feet of the walkway, there was no radiant heat to affect it.   

"But we could be wrong," stated McLinton.

Camsell-Blondin's faith is unshaken. 

“You know, something like this, He did not disturb it,” Camsell-Blondin says. “You respect it and you honour it and you worship it.”

After saying a prayer for her sick brother-in-law, Camsell-Blondin left some beads behind and drove off.

'It's too powerful'

Violet Martin built the shrine in 2008. 'It's hard for me to believe. It's too powerful.' (CBC)
Violet Martin built the shrine in 2008 when an elder from Behchoko told her about some holy water in the area.

"When my daughter first sent me the pictures, I started crying. It's hard for me to believe. It's too powerful." 

Martin was having knee problems when she first visited the area. She prayed there and later learned she didn't need surgery after all. 

Martin plans to visit the site today, and leave a new statue of the Virgin Mary.  

"I don't know how to explain it. It's just like a stair to heaven."

The shrine is located on the east side of the highway south of Chan Lake, about halfway between Fort Providence and Edzo.


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