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Sean and Geoffrey Peake were treated to interesting displays of forest fires along the same stretch of the Rupert River in early June 1982.

Blazing Paddles on the Rupert


Residents of a tiny Cree village along the Rupert River in Northern Quebec had to leave their homes in late May as a forest fire drew dangerously close. The fire, which spread from an outdoor cooking fire neared Nemaska, a village east of James Bay and about 1,200 kilometres north of Montreal.

"Nobody really paid attention to it in the beginning," said Matthew Swallow, Nemaska's deputy band council chief, at the village fire hall Sunday. "It was small but then (Saturday) the wind changed direction." Forests in many parts of Quebec are at extreme risk of forest fires because there has been very little rain recently. Nemaska, for example, has received only four centimetres of precipitation in May. "Even the swamp area here wasn't able to act as a fire barrier because it was too dry," Swallow said.

The provincial agency that manages forest fires ordered a ban on outdoor fires last week because the risk of forest fires was so high. In Nemaska, the fire spread quickly, travelling about six kilometres in just four hours, Swallow said. The village, with a population of about 550, was enveloped by smoke Saturday, making breathing difficult.

Two water bombers collected water from the river expansion beside the village and dumped it on the fire.

This story first appeared in Che-Mun Outfit 105 in 2001.
  


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