Four Winnipeggers are relieved to be safe at home after escaping a wildfire on their hike near the Manitoba-Ontario border last week.
On Thursday, Cameron Kovachik, 22; Dan Shaw, 22, Jordan Sawchuk, 21, and Garrett Moss, 23 started a four day hike on the Mantario trail, located in Whiteshell Provincial Park.
When the group left for the hike there wasn’t a fire warning in the area, only a burn ban in place.
They trekked 20 kilometres to Marion Lake and decided to set up camp.
Around 3:30 p.m., Kovachik said he saw smoke in the distance off the lake.
“We were all pretty tired from the heat, it was 35C that day, so we really didn’t comprehend what was going on,” Shaw said.
“At first we thought the puffs of smoke were from a train, and then it started to get a lot more black.”
Minutes later flames appeared and that’s when they decided to call 911. Shaw believes they may have been the first to report the wildfire as there was no one else on the trail.
The fire spread quickly across the lake and the group said they felt helpless as they waited for help to arrive.
“We were hoping the wind didn’t shift as the fire would then head straight towards us.”
Water bombers arrive
The first water bombers arrived on scene around 3:50 p.m., and the men watched the planes dump water on the wildfire that was growing in size.
Kovachik said the six planes worked on dousing the burning forest until 9 p.m.
A 911 operator had told the group to hike away from the fire, further into the bush. But they decided against it.
WATCH: Cameron Kovachik and Dan Shaw describe the wildfire that spread across the Mantario trail
“We didn’t think that was a good idea, as we would be out of cell service into the bush where we couldn’t be seen, so we decided it was best to stay put and sleep there for the night,” Shaw said.
Officers from Manitoba Conservation were in contact with the group and said someone would be coming to rescue them in the morning.
Waiting for rescue
Two conservation officers arrived by boat at 7 a.m., and took the men across Marion Lake and portaged into Florence Lake.
“We saw them coming across the lake and it was a good feeling knowing we were getting out of there,” Kovachik said.
The group drove down an access road, where the fire continued to burn.
“There wasn’t any moss or lichen left, just bare rocks. The trees that were still standing didn’t have any leaves on them.”
The group believes if they had left three hours later they would have been caught in the middle of the fire.
Despite the turn of events, Kovachik said they are hoping to hike the trail again in the fall.
WATCH: West Hawk Lake FD helicopter video of forest spark along Manitoba, Ontario border