Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Petoskey Couple Escapes Minnesota Pagami Creek Fire

Pagami Creek Fire
smoke from Pagami Creek Fire (photo from a video at

based on a news article in the Duluth News Tribune

Greg and Julie Welch, of Petoskey, spent a terrifying day and night surrounded by the Pagami Creek Fire in Minnesota's Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness.

The couple was kayaking on Kawasachong Lake north of Tofte about 4 p.m. Monday when the fire hit. They had previously been told that they were in no danger. Then came the unprecedented 16-mile run as 40 mph winds spread the fire far to the east.

Three-foot waves kicked up on the water and Julie's kayak capsized. The sky turned black from smoke and hot coals and ash began raining from the sky. the Welches spent the afternoon in the water, wondering if they would survive. The noise from the fire and wind sounded like a freight train, and the two could barely hear each other shout although only ten feet apart. They could find air pure enough to breathe only at the water's surface, and they used sweatshirts to shield their faces from the hot coals.

The strong winds blew water onto the rocks at the eastern shore making a place that they decided was safe to land. Their tent had been lost, but they used inflatable mattresses to shelter themselves for the night. Severe thunderstorms and hail hit that night.

In the morning, they paddled through the blackened area, back to their truck parked at Lake Kawishiwi which was undamaged. At the ranger station in Tofte they were given a refund on their Boundary Waters permit!

Greg and Julie say they love the Boundary Waters and will return, but not when a fire is burning.

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