For the elevendieth day in a row, we were motoring up wind. We had 17-20 knots of wind right on the nose, enough wind that our forward progress was diminished to 4 knots, even though we should have had current helping us. I was at the wheel, and I was over it. Our plan was to push on to the Octopus Islands, but that was another 4 hours away and I was concerned at this pace we were going to miss our window to get through some gnarly rapids on the way.
We were motoring right by Teakerne Arm, a long bay capped with a waterfall and wonderful lake for swimming. We were torn – we wanted to make progress and our stop at the Octopus Islands was my very favorite last trip through here, but the wind was wearing on me and a fresh water swim did sound nice. Knowing there was no wrong answer, we flipped a coin and I quickly swerved right to head into Teakerne Arm.
15 minutes up the bay, our VHF came alive. “Coast guard, coast guard, this is [garble garble garble] we are at Teakerne [garble garble] forest fire”. Um, what? They repeated the call and the coast guard picked it up while we listened to the exchange. We had hear right; we were motoring towards a forest fire.
When I write that, it sounds like it maybe wasn’t the smartest thing to do, but in moment, it was still our best option. That 15 minutes of re-route confirmed we’d miss our window to transit Surge Narrows (and with a name like that, you don’t want to be late…), there are not many protected anchorage options nearby, we’re surrounded by water on all sides, plus – wouldn’t you want to go check out a forest fire?!.
We got there just a few minutes before the coast guard boat showed up. There was one other small boat there, a couple with a young kid that had been up at the lake when the fire broke out. We idled in the bay and watched with awe as the hillside exploded in flames, one tree at a time. I’ve never seen anything quite like it.
Soon there was a helicopter, then a small scout plane, then another helicopter, and finally about 45 minutes after we arrived, a big-bellied airtanker plane powered over head, circled the flame, and dropped fire-retardant chemicals at the edge of the fire. He came roaring over us, so low I felt the need to duck, and banked around to line up again. By this time, we had anchored Halcyon (yes, away from the fire), and had jumped in the dinghy to watch with the other boats.
Eventually, the airtanker disappeared and the helicopters took over lifting buckets of water and dumping them over the flames, again and again. Knowing we didn’t want to be anchored here over night, we headed out in time to catch the next tide window at Surge Narrows, about 5 hours after we had arrived. There were still choppers in the air. It’s incredible the effort and expense consumed, and that for a relatively tiny fire.
We don’t know what sparked the flames, but on an island with no structures (much less electricity) and on a day without a cloud in the sky, the only option I can suggest is human-induced. Somebody didn’t listen to Smokey the Bear.
We didn’t get that fresh water rinse, in fact we left smelling vaguely like a campfire, but it was a pretty remarkable event to witness.