'Our hearts were pounding': Sask. canoeists helicoptered out due to forest fire

·2 min read
Members of the group on the  Rendezvous Lake. (Submitted by Kathy Jones - image credit)
Members of the group on the Rendezvous Lake. (Submitted by Kathy Jones - image credit)

A group of Saskatchewan paddlers had to cut a canoe trip short and be taken out by helicopter due to a nearby forest fire.

The eight-person group was almost done a 10-day trip on Clearwater River in northern Saskatchewan when they noticed a lot of smoke around them.

They paddled to the shore of Rendezvous Lake. A member of the group used a satellite phone to contact his wife and found out there was a forest fire five kilometres away from them.

"It was moving our way, so it was getting closer. You could tell it was getting bigger and bigger, so we were getting quite concerned," said Kathy Jones, a member of the eight-person canoeing group.

Submitted by Kathy Jones
Submitted by Kathy Jones

The group noticed a helicopter circling the area. It dropped off a crew member, who crossed a bog and made his way over to speak with the paddlers.

The helicopter then lowered a radio to the crew member and told him to make a clearing so the helicopter could land. The group got out their saws and hatchets to help create a spot.

The crew told the group they had been planning to do a controlled burn very close to where the group was. Had they done that, the group would have seen a wall of fire in front of them.

"Our hearts were pounding, the adrenaline pumping. We were very lucky. We didn't realize how bad it was until that happened," Jones said.

She said it would have terrified them because they wouldn't have known what was happening.

The crew gave the group the option to stay or leave. If they chose to stay there was no guarantee of a rescue later.

The group decided the safer option was to leave and packed up their gear. It took three trips for the chopper to take the group to La Loche.

The group left their canoes at the site. Workers pulled the canoes into a bog so the fire would burn around them. Jones said she hopes to get the canoes back when it's safe to do so.

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