After Ministry evacuation order, northern Ontario residents share their stories from the fire

When they heard their cottage on the Key River was threatened by a forest fire, Lisa and Jennifer Kivinen jumped in a boat and ventured toward the flames.
After evacuating the Key Harbour area during Parry Sound Fire 33, Lisa and Jennifer Kivinen said they're 'hopeful' they'll be able to return to their cottage soon. (Erik White/CBC)

When they heard their cottage on the Key River was threatened by a forest fire, Lisa and Jennifer Kivinen jumped in a boat and ventured toward the flames.

"It took us about 10 minutes to find our way actually, to navigate through the smoke and the fire," Lisa said.

"We all of a sudden couldn't see, we were overcome with smoke. And we could reach out and touch flame on one side."

The Kivinens were face-to-face with Parry Sound 33, a vicious blaze that has charred over 5,000 hectares north of Parry Sound. The Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry recommended an evacuation order for the 50 summer residents of Key Harbour Friday afternoon. But despite being in the fire's path, the sisters-in-law say they never once thought about turning around.

Instead of leaving the area, they spent the weekend making coffee for firefighters and making sure their family cottage was well doused with sprinklers.

"We put our blood, sweat and tears into building this cottage," Lisa said. "That's what we want to do. We want to protect it. We want to save it if we can."

The Kivinens say they saw the remains of cottages that were destroyed by the flames, but don't know how many.

"Yeah, there were some tears, but we'll be back. We're hopeful. We're really hopeful."

They said they are praying for rain, as are 50 of their neighbours who were also told to stay away, in addition to the 175 people from Henvey Inlet First Nation, who are staying in hotel rooms far from the flames.

Ghaffar Khan, who has owned the Key Marine Resort for 18 years said he has turned away some tourists who did not hear about the forest fire. (Erik White/CBC)

'Nobody can fight the nature'

Ghaffar Khan, who has owned the Key Marine Resort for 18 years, said he's has never seen a fire like this in the area.

"It's the first time we've seen it like this, and it was a bad one," Khan said. "But [firefighters] are trying to curtail it, and we've been lucky there's no wind direction to bring the fire here. So we're lucky."

Khan said he's had to turn away customers because of the fire.

"A lot of people, some were from States, they come here every year for fishing trips and they were disappointed," Khan said. "But everyone knows that nobody can fight the nature."

Khan said although the fire has already taken a toll on business, he's taking it in stride.

"You can understand that is bad for business, but that is part of life and we have to live with it," he said.

What to pack, what to leave behind

Angele Dubois, a member of Henvey Inlet First Nation, said the evacuation scene was "surreal."

"We went down to the fire hall. People had all their belongings, they were pretty calm,though," Dubois said. "Council devised a plan to get everyone out, where to stay, and get all the food."

"When I got home to pack, you could see smoke coming down the [Pickerel] River, and inside the house it was smoky," she said.

"You could definitely tell it was close."

Listen to the interview with Dubois in the link below.

Dubois said despite people's calm during the evacuation, she found it difficult to decide what could be left behind.

"The hardest part was deciding what's important, what's not," she said. "I found it really hard and was thinking, I'm only one person, but what about parents who had to pack up whole families?

A number of Henvey Inlet residents were taken to a hotel in Parry Sound. Dubois said that the council will reassess the situation on Friday. 

(Erik White/CBC)

'We were the last ones'

Toronto canoeists Melisa Bayon and Stuart Schussler were paddling on the water outside French River Provincial Park, where they could see the smoke rising from the fire.

"You could see Hartley Bay burning, including some of the reserve land," Boyen said. "You could see almost two smoke pits in the distance,and an orange glow, so you could tell it was burning."

Despite the concern, the couple continued on their journey.

"It was close enough on a few mornings...we couldn't breathe that well," Bayon said. "But we decided to keep going as the smoke was blowing north."

When they returned to the community, Boyen said they were stunned by the silence.

"We were wondering what was wrong, nobody was in the park. "We're the last people left," she said.

Police eventually found the couple as they made their way back into the park. Police had been searching for them, Boyen said, and told them about the mandatory evacuation order.

Boyen said they now plan on heading back to Toronto.

The Ministry said that as of Monday afternoon, Fire Parry Sound 33 had grown to 5,600 hectares, but had been slowed by the weekend's rains.

With files from Waubgeshig Rice, Erik White, Justine Cohendet, Jean-Loup Doudard


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