Residents return to assess damage following Parry Sound 33 forest fire

The forest fire situation across northeastern Ontario continues to improve, with some residents being allowed to return home and assess the damage to their properties.

Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry says fire destroyed at least 13 structures

Jane Lee says she's not sure if her family will rebuild after they lost cabins on Humbum Island due to the Parry Sound 33 forest fire. (Supplied by Jane Lee)

The forest fire situation across northeastern Ontario continues to improve, with some residents being allowed to return home and assess the damage to their properties.

The Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry says that as of Sunday, there were 41 active fires in the region, five were not yet under control and no new fires had been reported.

The fire near Key River known as Parry Sound 33, south of Sudbury, has not grown and remains at 11,362 hectares. The ministry lists the fire as being held, although suppression continues in the interior of the fire with helicopter bucketing, pump and hose, as well as chainsaw and hand-tool operations.

Residents affected by Parry Sound 33 are slowly returning to their homes and cottages. Others are preparing for the worst, as the ministry said Parry Sound 33 has destroyed at least 13 structures since it started July 18.

Going back

Back in 1961, Jane Lee's family purchased an island on the Key River dotted with a half-dozen structures.

It's officially named Humbum Island, but the family simply calls it "Lighthouse," due to the old lighthouse that long stood as a landmark on the property.

In 1961, Jane Lee's family purchased Humbum Island on the Key River. (Supplied by Jane Lee)

Just two years ago, the beacon was renovated by Lee's brother. But all that is gone now.

The cabins and the lighthouse on the island were among the structures destroyed by the forest fire.

That means that while most evacuation orders and travel restrictions further away from the still-active are being lifted, and many are returning to their homes and cottages, others won't have much to go back to.

"There's virtually nothing left — just the tin roofs of these buildings just sitting on the rocks," said Lee.

"I think the thing that just blew us away is that we are on an island, and it's very hard to imagine a fire of such force that it would jump across as much water as it did," he said.

Deep-rooted history

Due to the dry, windy climate typical of the Georgian Bay coast, Lee said structures "didn't really deteriorate" on the island.

Lee said the cabins were built by the island's original owners — a group of First World War veterans who formed what they called the "Sand Bay Hunt and Fish Club."

The Lighthouse on Humbum Island was renovated two years ago by Jane Lee's brother. (Supplied by Jane Lee)

A document listing the names of the men who formed the club was still posted on one of the cabin's walls.

"Essentially all the buildings were on it when we bought it over 50 years ago," said Lee.

"This is one of the huge losses for us, is all the history that was lost because people actually started putting buildings up there in the 1920s and '30s, so it's been in continuous use for almost 100 years."

To rebuild, or not to rebuild

Lee said the family can't say if it will rebuild the camp.

She said she's distraught by the loss of what, for her entire life, had been a landscape any Group of Seven painter would have swooned over.

"My own kids, particularly my daughter, it's a really spiritual place for her, and she has a little boy, so she has a very strong will to come up and be there again for many years, so that's what we're hoping," said Lee, pointing out that any materials and equipment would have to be brought to the island by boat.

For now, Lee said she's cherishing all those moments from countless days and summers past.

Jane Lee says her family has many cherished memories of Humbum Island. (Supplied by Jane Lee)

She recalls how she and her family would gather around an old hand-wound record player as the evening light turned to dark.

"Because there was no electricity up there, we'd always have fun putting on these old records and listening to them as the sound sort of wafted across the wilderness at night," remembers Lee.

"We had some really fabulous memories of our time spent there, and thank God we have those."

With files from Benjamin Aubé


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