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Great Forest Fires

March 31, 2023

Burnt Out Forests around Three Brothers Falls, late nineteenth century

By Guy Scott

Forest fires are a constant threat to the Kinmount area. Every year is different due to peculiar weather conditions. The summer of 1887 was one of the driest on record. Extensive lumbering operations along the Burnt River watershed had left the bush filled with tops, limbs and other culls from the lumber operations of the past winters. For several years previous, Mossom Boyd from Bobcaygeon had kept a lumber camp on Bow Lake. The woods surrounding the nascent hamlet of Furnace Falls were filled with combustible wood waste: a disaster waiting to happen.

On September 9, 1887 a sudden forest fire erupted west of Furnace Falls and aided by high winds, swept through the little village. In a few hours the entire hamlet was burned to the ground. Lost structures included the iron ore smelter that gave the village its name. The smelter was inactive at the time, but still serviceable. Also burned was the sawmill on the south bank of the Irondale River, leased by a Mr. Robinson of Fenelon Falls and 1 million board feet of lumber. The large boarding house built by Charles Pusey was consumed as well as all other houses and structures in the vicinity. The business structures were valued at $63,000. None of the destroyed buildings were ever replaced and the hamlet of Furnace Falls became a ghost town. No lives were lost, the residents having warning and fleeing from the fire. The train station was rebuilt and the post office moved to a private house. Furnace Falls was the only village of any size to be consumed entirely by a forest fire in our area.

A similar fire broke out in the summer of 1913 in the same area. For several days, fire swept through the triangle of Snowdon Township between the Irondale and Burnt Rivers. By the time it was over, 40,000 acres has been burned over in the township and was almost desert like. A government report for the same year listed 81% of Snowdon’s forest or wildlands as ‘burnt over’ and the rest as “severely culled.” It was the end of the lumber industry in Snowdon. It would take many years before Mother Nature re-covered the area.

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