No smoke without fire

1979 – ’82, Burns Lake B.C.  Francois Lake  highway cam on Southbank nice pictures and good info

is 110 km. long, and in the middle is a free ferry from Southbank to Neave’s Landing, about a 15 min. ride. The ferry at that time run from 04 AM until 02 AM, a two-hour pause in the middle of the night. I worked in a large District, and often had 2 – 3 or more hours drive to get to the ferry. Sometimes I missed the 02 AM ferry, and in summer months I could drive around the lake in one hour, but in the winter it was too risky. very nice pictures, including one of the ferry.

Francois Lake


This one winter night, I made the 02 AM ferry. There was thick ice on the lake, and the ferry docks were kept open with air pressure, creating air bubbles, and the rest was up to the ferry to keep open. It was probably below 30 minus Celsius this night. Arriving at Southbank I had six kilometers to my farmstead. It was a clear cold night, and I was at the end of a long day’s work. Probably a meeting at a City hall or Chamber of Commerce in Fort St. James, as I can recall.

Just after turning left at Southbank, towards Uncha Lake,  there was a General Store, and some houses. The first one on the left belonged to Mike ….., an auctioneer, a real nice chap.

I drove by Mike’s house, and the other homes at the landing, and something was not right. After half a mile I turned around and drove back to have another look, I thought I had seen smoke, not from the chimney, but from under the eaves. Coming back to Mike’s house, I could see it clearly, some smoke, not much, but it came from underneath the eaves, and that was not right.

After I was convinced, I went down to the house and woke Mike up, it was now about 2:30 AM. He had a friend visiting, and they came out and had a look at this smoke. Oh Yes, there was a fire around the chimney up on the loft. All hell broke loose. Mike woke up his brother next door. He woke up the rest of the neighbours. Somebody rung the man in charge of the firewagon, and the fire pump.

Mike and me thew snow on, that did not help. At 35 minus, there is not much water running anywhere. I can not remember if there was running water in the house, not likely in that cold. More people came by and helped. It was still just smoke coming, now from underneath the rafters. The lake was just a few meters away, but they could not cut a hole in the ice with the chain saws, so the fire pump was of no use. The ice must have been over 1 m. thick. The ice on the lake, usually broke up the first or second week in May, we had bets on the day, a big event.

Mike asked me to help moving some furniture out of the house, just in case the whole house would burn. We carried out many nice furniture items, and the fridge, and the freezer, TV and a few other things. Just to the outside and placed them in the snow bank. He a large collection of guns and other valuables, Mike was an auctioneer, and had collected many nice things in his life.

The flames now came up around the chimney, and the roof was on fire. The 12 – 15 people there, did what they could; but could not do much, except shovelling snow on the fire. After an hour or so, the whole house was in full flame. Indeed, it got so hot, that the furniture, and appliances we had earlier carried out, got engulfed by the flames, he lost everything. The house was not old, but built by locals, and they used sawdust and chips as insulation, it was all they had. Nobody died, but everyone had tears in their eyes, and it was not easy for Mike.

About 5 AM I drove the last 6 km. home. My wife came out on the front porch, she was so worried, that she had called RCMP. The knew about the fire later, but not when she called. If I had missed the ferry, I would have called to tell her from a phoneboth  (“phoneboth” is no longer in the English Spelling Dictionary – just mobiles now) at the landing.


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