Families reminisce about 'good times' after homes lost in Traverse Bay grass fire
Pollen and poplar seeds helped accelerate and grow grass fire, authorities say
For the first summer in nearly 40 years, Susan George and her family will have no place to come to spend quality time during the year, after their cottage in Traverse Bay burned to the ground Friday.
"It doesn't seem real and it seems like maybe I'm looking at someone else's, it doesn't seem like mine," George said of the burnt remains of her cabin.
George, who built the cottage in 1980 by herself, recalls all the time spent with family in the space over the years.
"The kids would come...it's got lots of memories, we'd go to the beach," she said, as she tried to remember better times.
Residents of the area were allowed to see their cabins after evacuation orders were lifted around 2 p.m. on Saturday.
George walked on the grounds where her cottage once stood, searching to salvage what was left, but nothing, not even her treasured sewing machine handed down to her by her grandmother, survived the blaze.
A grass fire broke out in the area around 1:30 p.m. Friday and began spreading quickly, says Brad Patzer, chief of Victoria Beach Fire Department.
"A lot of it has to do with the poplar seed, it's the white fluff stuff that's around, it's just amazing how fast the fire travels through that stuff," he said.
Patzer added the poplar seed coupled with the heavy pollen in the area worked as an accelerant for the flames, helping the fire spread.
A handful of neighbouring fire departments came to the aid of Victoria Beach firefighters, with nearly 35 to 40 battling the fire at its peak.
"It definitely starts to raise your adrenaline a little bit when you start getting into it, but we just look at it as another situation, another fire ... you just go ahead and do the best you can," Patzer said.
Patzer said the fire started accidentally, but it's still unclear what the cause was as crews continue to investigate.
"We're just fortunate that there's not more homes and cottages gone ... it's very tragic if they're losing their homes," said George.
Thankfully for George her cottage was insured, but the loss hasn't quite settled in and rebuilding hasn't crossed her mind.
"I'm not sure what's going to happen yet, I think I have to digest this," she said.
Family home lost
While four of the five homes lost to the fire were secondary homes, Marian Bruyere found out her family home, where one of her brothers lived permanently, was completely gone.
"Emotionally it's hard, it's hard to imagine the house being gone and for me what goes through my mind is living there, growing up there," she said.
Bruyere said everyone in her family is still in a state of shock.
"It's hard to describe, it's everything my parents built for us, to give us a good life," she said.
Bruyere said the home was more than just a structure that can be rebuilt with insurance money.
"I know it's just material things, but a person is attached to their home, it represents family and love," said Bruyere.
"I know the family is still there and the love is still there, which is great, but you are emotionally attached to the physical things."
The family has roots in Traverse Bay with Bruyere's mother and uncle growing up and living almost all their lives in the area.
Bruyere says losing the home feels like a part of her family's identity was wiped out, too.
"We were a big family, there was nine of us [siblings], to me it represents everything, like all of our connection with each other and our parents," she said.
Bruyere said her 81-year-old uncle tried to put the fire out with his garden hose in an attempt to stop the blaze from destroying the home.
Traverse Bay wasn't the only community affected by the raging fire on Friday night — a home in Sagkeeng First Nation was destroyed by flames too.
Less than a twenty minute drive away the home of Assembly of First Nations Manitoba Regional Chair, Kevin Hart, was completely burnt down.
"It's devastating because everything is gone, everything that my wife and I worked so hard, all our lives to achieve and accomplish [just gone]," he said.
"Everything is gone, everything is gone, man."
Hart pointed to what he calls a lack of solid infrastructure on First Nations and a shortage of emergency personnel as part of the reason why the homes were lost.
"Lack of housing, lack of proper emergency services and equipment and training...these have a direct result of why I lost my home, and why my wife and children are homeless right now," said Hart, through tears as his voice choked up.
Hart is calling on governments to pay better attention to what he sees as poor resources available in rural communities.
Patzer said the Sagkeeng Fire Department came to help in Traverse Bay when they saw the smoke go up, without being called.