Vigilance saves Norah's Island from fire 0
It was just her duty.
That’s pretty much how she describes her actions to save Norah’s Island.
Before 6 a.m. Kennisis Lake resident Liz Boxall, who was getting ready to go to work, looked out to Norah’s Island from her bedroom window just as she has done for years and saw what she thought was smoke.
At first she wasn’t sure, thinking it might be fog. She went outside her house to get a better look and called the Dysart Fire Department, reporting the smoke coming from the south side of the island.
Boxall’s neighbours Janis Parker and husband Ron Kozak, who initially wanted to go to the island and fight it, became aware of the situation through a text message via email from a firefighter. The couple waited and were ready with their pontoon boat when the fire department arrived a little past 6 a.m. They made three trips, moving several firefighters and their equipment to the island.
Parker said there was smoke and fire mainly at the base of several cedar trees about 20 feet from shore. The department had 11 firefighters on the scene and spent close to five hours putting out the fire.
Dysart fire chief Miles Maughan said the cause was a campfire from the prior Saturday night, which was out, but “creeped” and went up into the bush.
He reminds the public to abide by the fire ban.
“I just can’t understand. I think we tried our best to get the message out that there is no burning. The conditions are extreme and people continue to burn and have all kinds of excuses to burn. To me there is no burning and no burning period. That goes for fireworks too,” he said.
Maughan adds the timing was key since the winds were practically non-existent while they worked, but dramatically picked up. Windy conditions could have caused the fire to spread. He isn’t sure if left unchecked the fire would have taken the island since he doesn’t know the material makeup of the entire 22-acre island.
Parker, who is a board director with the Haliburton Highlands Land Trust, is appreciative of Boxall. Right after the call, a mist settled in on the lake, she said. Parker said two hours could have passed before anyone might have noticed anything.
“It would’ve been really, really bad. It’s unbelievably good considering the drought conditions,” she said.
Norah’s Island is one of three nature reserves under the Trust’s care and was donated through the Environmental Canada’s Ecological Gifts Program.
With a few trees lost, she said, Boxall’s actions averted disaster.
The Trust website said the island is one of “the last vestiges of intact representative wilderness” on Kennisis Lake.
Boxall cannot imagine what could have happened if she didn’t make the call.
“Right now with the fire hazard [conditions] we have up here … maybe I’m paranoid, but I want everybody to be so cautious,” she said.
Even before Boxall was born, Norah’s Island was important to her family; Annetta Hill, Boxall’s grandmother bought the property in 1956 and then left it for her mother.
She will never forget what her father Murray Wenger told her and her brothers.
“We had no car, no boat, no phone and Dad always said you head to the island – and it always was Norah’s Island – head to the island. We had no car we had nowhere to go if a fire ever happened,” she said.
Boxall deflects praise for her call and said anyone would have done it, or hopes they would.
“I’m just hoping everybody would do the same thing. That anyone seeing anything like that and make the same call,” she said.
This is an example she hopes that can serve as a cautionary tale for anyone thinking of breaking the fire ban.
During the fire ban Boxall said she is watching for fireworks or fires of any kind.
A few days after the fire, the enormity of what she did sunk in.
“It’s really brought it home to me … that’s where we were always told to go in case of a fire,” she said.