New Brunswick

From 'hilltop to hilltop to hilltop': residents grapple with impact of fast-moving forest fire

Bocabec resident Geoffrey Howson is among many residents quick to thank firefighters for saving their homes from a fast-moving forest fire.

Some homes nearly surrounded by charred ground and trees

Elderly man in a hat.
Bocabec resident Geoffrey Howson credits firefighters with saving his home from a forest fire that tore through his community. (Roger Cosman/CBC)

Geoffrey Howson was emotional when he returned to his Bocabec home in southwestern New Brunswick on Tuesday afternoon and realized how close he had come to losing it. 

The heavily wooded areas on either side of his long driveway were burned black. Scorch marks almost encircle his house, including in a front flower bed and directly beneath his back deck, which overlooks Passamaquoddy Bay. 

Fire burned through a wooded area to within 10 metres of his home on one side.

Howson credits firefighters with saving his house. If not for them fighting off the flames, he's certain he would have lost it.

Man shows burn marks in a flower bed under a deck.
Howson shows the remnants of the fire that burned under his back deck. (Roger Cosman/CBC)

That scene was being replayed all over the Bocabec and Chamcook areas affected by the fire after officials lifted an evacuation. 

He said he's "incredibly grateful" to the firefighters, who worked around the clock to protect homes from the fast-moving fire that began about three kilometres away in the woods across Highway 127 from Howson's house. 

A blackened out forest after a forest fire.
Fire burned through the woods on this property off Highway 127 in Bocabec, but firefighters managed to save three buildings nearby. (Mia Urquhart/CBC)

Firefighters told Howson they even fought the fire with the garden hose he had lying beside his house. 

He heard about the fire from a neighbour on Sunday afternoon and within hours, he and his wife were ordered to evacuate. 

While the fire is still considered out of control, officials did allow residents to return.

Howson said he had been running on adrenaline until he got home and started feeling the impact of what they had been through. 

He felt vulnerable and "just very, very lucky." 

Across Highway 127, Department of Natural Resources officials allowed journalists on Tuesday to get a look at the damage caused by the forest fire. 

WATCH | Bocabec resident grateful firefighters saved home from forest fire:

‘We were pretty shaken’: Bocabec residents head for home Tuesday

4 months ago
Duration 2:04
People whose homes were evacuated because of a forest fire in southwestern N.B. are allowed to return home, as officials say they’re making progress on the fire.

A dirt road led to several properties in the woods.

Very little vegetation was left. Blackened tree trunks were all that was standing along both sides of the road.

Somehow, though, firefighters managed to keep the flames from claiming three modest homes or camps. 

Burned vegetation almost surrounded one of the buildings, coming to within feet of the structure. It seemed inconceivable that any of the buildings were still standing. 

A forest fire burns to within feet of a small home under construction.
The fire burned to within several feet of this home under construction in the woods off Highway 127 in Bocabec. (Mia Urquhart/CBC)

Firefighters were still on the property dousing hot spots in the nearby woods when one of the homeowners returned.

The man walked around his house and stood to survey the damage. He stood very still until he was overcome by a visible shudder before he continued on around his house. 

Only one house was lost in the blaze that claimed about 250 hectares. It's being called the Stein Lake fire because it began on the South Glenelg Road near Stein Lake, around 13 kilometres north of Saint Andrews.

Fire Chief Kevin Theriault said the 911 call reported an ATV on fire. He said by the time firefighters reached the scene, it had already spread to the woods and could not be contained. 

Very strong winds on Sunday initially carried the fire parallel to Route 1 before turning south toward Highway 127, said Theriault. 

He said the winds were so strong they carried the fire from "hilltop to hilltop to hilltop." 

A firefighter surrounded by blacked woods sprays water from a hose. .
A firefighter helps douse hot spots with water on Tuesday afternoon at a property off Highway 127, three kilometres from where the Stein Lake fire started. (Mia Urquhart/CBC)

In fact, the fire spread to areas eight kilometres away from the initial fire. At its widest, the fire burned three kilometres across. It jumped across Highway 127 in at least three spots, said Theriault. 

By Monday afternoon, he said there were at least six distinct fire locations. 

Local MLA Kathy Bockus told a news conference on Tuesday afternoon that aerial surveillance identified 220 hot spots. 

More than 60 firefighters from 13 different departments from as far away as Harvey and Oromocto were on scene battling the blaze on Monday.

A hand made thank you sign posted along a roadway.
Elementary school children helped make dozens of signs like this one that were put up along the route between the fire station and the fire. (Roger Cosman/CBC)

By Tuesday, Theriault said, that was down to 55 firefighters from eight departments. 

Roger Collet, a wildfire management officer with the New Brunswick Department of Natural Resources, said the seven water bombers that flew more than 80 hours on Monday are now on standby. 

The fire will now be largely fought on the ground by hand. Bulldozers are being used to clear the way to access the more remote areas and to help create fire breaks. 


Mia Urquhart is a journalist with CBC New Brunswick, based in Saint John. She can be reached at

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