Canoers have trip cut short due to Saskatchewan wildfire evacuation — and luck

Click to play video: 'Eight canoers have trip cut short due to wildfire evacuation and luck'
Eight canoers have trip cut short due to wildfire evacuation and luck
WATCH: Eight canoeists had their trip sidetracked by Saskatchewan's wildfires, but they were able to get out of the situation with the help of a helicopter and a whole lot of luck – Jul 13, 2021

A 20-year-long tradition was interrupted when a group of eight canoers got dangerously close to one of several Saskatchewan wildfires.

Canoers David Horton, Dennis Dixon, Jim Engel, Kathy Jones, Kelly Kohlert, Krista Horton, Lana Stobbe, and Mike Weisgarber started their trip on the morning of July 2 at Warner Rapids, Sask., with hopes of finishing off at La Loche, Sask.

In previous years, the regular canoe crew had notified the RCMP to let them know they would be out in remote areas and what their route would be, just in case.

This year, they had not contacted the RCMP.

The crew paddled and portaged for six days on the Clearwater River before eventually making their way to Rendevous Lake on July 7, where they noticed smoke behind them.

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“It was a pretty scary situation seeing that smoke behind us so close,” said Kelly Kohlert.

Eventually settling on the southeast side of the lake, the canoers contacted family members to let them know of their potentially dangerous situation.

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Family members passed on the information to the RCMP and fire services, but the message did not get to any fire services patrolling the area on time.

Luckily, a fire ignition crew was doing their last pass over the area by helicopter and spotted the canoer’s orange tent.

“The scary part of that situation is, the forest fire ignition crew, I mean, they weren’t the suppression crew. They were there to actually assess and light a back fire to protect the town of La Loche and protect the fire from jumping [Rendevous] Lake,” said Kohlert.

“What they told us was that if they had lit that back fire, we likely would have seen a wall of fire within a couple 100 metres and of course been very worried and panicked. And as it turns out, that fire went right around the lake and ended up there anyway.”

The fire ignition crew asked the canoers to clear the area to make room for the helicopter to land.

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After making contact, they fire crew informed the group of eight that it would be time for them to evacuate the area, since the wildfire across the lake was only 5 km away and spreading.

The pilot was not able to get a bigger helicopter, so after three trips, all of the canoers ended up safe at the La Loche Wildfire Management Saskatchewan Public Safety Agency (SPSA) compound before eventually making it back home to their families.

“We’ve reflected on [our luck] a few times,” said Kohlert.

There are 114 wildfires still burning in Saskatchewan as of Tuesday evening.

Click to play video: 'Experts discuss way to stay safe with increasing wildfires and hot temperatures across Saskatchewan'
Experts discuss way to stay safe with increasing wildfires and hot temperatures across Saskatchewan

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