Huge areas of blowdown had been created in July of 1973 when hurricane-force winds of 90 miles an hour or more blew through the region. Prolonged drought in early 1974 created perfect conditions for dry lightning to ignite the blowdown and create all kinds of control problems. For example, ground access is extremely difficult and air attack results are less effective.
Dry lighting went through various parts of the region towards the end of June, 1974. What followed in northwestern Ontario was unprecedented at that time, with the exception of the large fires north of Red Lake in 1961.
In the summer of 1974, if you volunteered for firefighting–and many did–you were classified as an EFF and paid $3.80 an hour, plus meals and a bed. At that time, EFF were untrained personnel hired on a temporary basis to fight forest fires. The E is for Extra or Emergency Fire Fighter.
At Dryden’s Government Dock, a tent campsite had been set up for incoming fire crews that had not yet been assigned to existing fires. The Memorial Arena was turned into the area’s equipment cache.
At the time, OMNR operated a fleet of Tracker aircraft that had been modified to drop retardant. Ontario’s fleet of large water-dropping aircraft wouldn’t be introduced until the mid-80s, although subsequent to Ontario’s Tracker experiece, PBY* of the Canso variety were contracted for a number of years.
June 29, 1974
- A fire believed to be caused by lightning destroyed Korzinski’s pool room and taxi stand in Eagle River.
- Downtown Kenora narrowly escaped disaster when two helicopters began a bucketing operation on the Lindstrom and Nelson lumber yard. A fire had broke out around 6:45 p.m.
- The Campbell Brothers appliance store was destroyed, while the Northland Hotel suffered smoke damage.
- Five other businesses located in the same block were saved.
- Initial attack was attempted on Dryden-18. It failed.
Already there were large fires in the region, but none approaching the scope of what would soon occur.
*PB represented Patrol Bomber, and Y designated the manufacturer as Consolidated Aircraft in the U.S. Canadian-manufactured PBYs were called Cansos (designated PBV), and were built by Canadian Vickers. If I remember correctly, the license endorsement is CV-540.