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Waugh Lake, Egmont Forest Fire May 1956

  • Comments: 4
  • Posted on: March 21st, 2009
'Waugh Lake Fire' Firefighters
Image by heatherinbeautifulbritishcolumbia via Flickr

The Waugh Lake fire, in the Egmont area started on Highway 101 between where the current Egmont Road turnoff is located, and Ruby Lake in May 1956. (The west side of Waugh Lake). The sidehill where the fire started was ‘tinder’ dry according to ‘Pop’, (John West), as it is a sunny south western exposure. It’s believed the fire was started when someone carelessly threw a cigarette butt out the window of a car which came off the Saltery Bay to Earls Cove Ferry.
Agamemnon Bay
I don’t know if that was speculation or fact – this is the story as Pop recalls – he wasn’t positive of the year but we have tried to piece it all together from the photos*. Pop is nearly 96 so whatever he says, goes for now – until I find more accurate details! If other residents have memories, information or facts I would like to know so I can add it to this important Egmont history. No memory is too small to share!

When the fire started and threatened the small town of Egmont, Pop immediately volunteered, before he was conscripted. His troller, the ‘Mary Ann W’ was equipped and ready for the fishing season and he had spare time. Dave McNutt, a local Egmont logger was Foreman, and appointed Pop to be the First Aid attendant.

When I asked Pop how he traveled to the fire area which was 3 or 4 miles from home, he said he would have taken either his putterboat or the troller the ‘Mary Ann W’ to the Egmont Government Wharf (Maple Road did not exist at the time), tied up then walked up past the store and the community hall and onto a trail which crossed over the creek, and through Henry Silvey’s property. There was an old logging road on the Silvey property which led to his First Aid Station. The area was above Waugh Lake, sunny but he could not see the fire.

Bruce Silvey, Ky Silvey and Leonard Silvey

The picture of Pop and Leonard Silvey was taken at the First Aid Station – you can see a canvas water bag hanging from a pole. The pole was supported between two trees and the pole would have had a tarp draped over for protection if needed. There is lunch box right behind Pop in the picture. He said he was supplied with a good sized first aid kit. Leonard Silvey appears to have a half full Coke bottle in his left hand and perhaps a sandwich in the other. Pop thinks he may have hurt himself slightly and came up the First Aid Station for a bandage and a couple of aspirin.

Pop had a ‘haywire’ radio phone and was in contact with someone who was on the other side of the fire. He relayed messages from the other man to Dave McNutt who then directed his crew. The radio phones were very poor – Pop could hear the other crew talking but he couldn’t talk to them – at least he knew what was going on the other side of the fire.

John West and Rod Silvey

Pop was paid 75 cents per hour and worked for about a week. He was required to ‘dress up’ to do the job – as you can see in the picture he dressed in light pants and a white shirt, his ‘town’ hat and dress shoes. He was paid by the Provincial Forestry Department with a check which came from Victoria.

Bob Creighton, ‘Cat Driver’, Don Jeffries, Glenn Phillips, Gene Silvey, Ben Griffith

The men and the bulldozer were creating a firebreak on the east side of Waugh lake, directly below where Pop was stationed. He could see them and hear the machine running. The crew created the firebreak between the lake and Egmont, to protect the Egmont residents and their homes. The break was about the bulldozer width. It was a big worry that the wind might blow the sparks across the lake and the fire could be blown through the trees and brush toward Egmont, so the firebreak provided a margin of comfort.

The picture shows two chainsaws in the foreground, two of the men appear to be holding axes and the third appears to be holding a tool with a larger handle – more the size of a mattock handle – which would have been an appropriate tool for digging and cutting roots.

Kent says the bulldozer looks like an International TD15.

Jean Blais, Chuck Beale, Fred Vaughan

The ‘cat driver’ in the picture was hit in the eye, probably by a tree branch, and came to Pop with a bleeding eye. Pop cleaned it out and sent him to the hospital. He was gone for the afternoon then back again. Pop says he would have been taken to St Mary’s Hospital in Hospital Bay in Pender Harbour. Pop doesn’t remember how he was transported or who took him. Dave McNutt, the foreman would have arranged it no doubt.

Danny Cummings, Charlie Phillips

Luckily for Egmont and the residents, the fire burned itself out within a week, due in great part to the very hard work of the men who cleared the firebreak area.

* The photos in this account belonged to Gladys McNutt, the Egmont School teacher and wife of Fred McNutt. Thanks to George Disney, nephew of Gladys, we now have copies of this very interesting part of Egmont’s history. The original photos have the developers date stamp on the back – June 1956.

This is my brother Graeme’s recollection of the time of the fire – he was about 10 at the time.

Graeme remembers Mom telling him of the danger of the fire as it was getting closer to Egmont, and that they might have to pack up in big hurry and get on the boat to go out in the channel away from fire and they would only have 1/2 an hour to an 1 hour notice to pack up their belongings and escape.

My brother Peter told Graeme it would never happen, but Graeme went upstairs anyway and got
his one posession of great value – his new dart board and darts, then took them down to Pop’s boat, the ‘Mary Ann W’ so he’d be prepared!

Billy Griffith wrote:

“I believe the Waugh Lake fire was in the early spring. I vaguely remember I came home from Bill Woods camp in Hotham Sound at night to see if Egmont or people’s houses were in danger. (At night so Dave would not see me and conscript me.) Dad said there was no danger so I went back in the night to the logging camp. I was making $18 a day( big pay at that time) and did not wish to fight fire for 75 cents an hour.”

Dave Oram wrote:

‘…that mattock shaped tool might be a Pulaski. Basically a mattock with an axe head too for fighting fire, etc. Chopping roots.’ Mom (Karen McCourt) and i were talking and the fire would have had to been the year before she was born because of the people that were/werent still alive around at that time, involved in fighting the fire, etc.. …

That old international in the picture belonged to one of the Dubois he (Benny Vaughan) says. He says they would have gone in to fight the fire from Silvey’s place because the (Egmont) road wasnt built, or was only under construction at that time.

There’s an old shot of Ruby Lake Resort I’ve seen mid 50’s, 60’s.. The resort buildings are all brand new, but the whole back hillside way up on to Mt. Hallowell and the side behind the resort proper are scorched, black and full of ghostly snags.. I cant see any other reason for it other than that same fire.

He (Ben Vaughan) says there were two fires going at the same time that year – Spring of ’56. One was the Waugh Lake Fire. The other would be the Ruby lake fire. The pumps and 2000′ of hose were left during the Ruby Lake fire when it (the fire) blew back on them..

…he (Ben Vaughan) said it blew back over them when they were fighting it and they had to throw all their gear in ‘the pond’ and let the fire burn back over top of it all.

Keith Griffith wrote:

‘I do remember some of the details and do believe it was the spring of 1956. I remember going out in Ben’s boat (my father) with my mother and 2 sisters to look at the flames in the evening. We went down the channel (Agamemnon Channel) in front of Mrs. Sladey’s place (Agamemnon Bay – near ‘The Lodge’. My father told us a story about her. The fire was only a few hundred feet from her home and she was at home making sandwiches, soup and goodies for the men who were trying to save her home. Her descendants may also have stories or pictures of this event.
Agamemnon Bay
As your picture shows my father also went and built fire breaks with other men from Egmont. I remember huddling around the radio, yes in those days that was our only source of instant communication, hearing the reporter saying all the women and children were on a barge out in front of Egmont.

We as children did continue going to (the Egmont) school but were ready to pack up and vacate the school at any moment.’

Elaine (Griffith) Hegglund wrote:

I remember it nearly came over the ridge behind
Dad’s (Bill and Lela Griffith’s) place. I was working at the store then
and it was a scary sky.

Ken Griffith said:

The fire never got near Waugh lake–it was much closer 2 Klein lake. The pictures were likely taken by Fred McNUtt. The cat drivers name was Bill Hodgson.

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4 Comments! What do you think? Leave a comment below...
  1. Christine said on March 21st, 2009 at 6:59 am

    What a wonderful account of a pretty scary situation. Fires frighten me, and forest fires seem so uncontrollable today – it must’ve been worse back then.

    Yay for pictures with names written on them! Makes ‘remembering’ a little easier :)

    Thanks for sharing!

    Christine’s last blog post..Bring On the Springtime!

  2. Diane Scott said on March 21st, 2009 at 12:03 pm

    Wow, what a fascinating recount of history! Imagine them having to “dress up” to fight fires! Also minus all the protective gear they use nowadays. Thanks for the insight into history! Excellent post :)

    Diane Scott’s last blog post..Could This Help You Keep Your Job?

  3. Ally said on March 22nd, 2009 at 9:45 pm

    This is wonderful. Thorough and engaging. I adore the old photos especially. Capturing moments, places, people…expressions…just can’t beat old photographs for entertainment value and stimulating imagination.

    Ally’s last blog post..“Weekly World Digest” Does Rose Red

  4. Barbara said on March 25th, 2009 at 4:37 pm

    What a great post…Thanks for sharing such a wonderful look back in History!

    Barbara’s last blog post..Relax With Barbara On Wednesday 30

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