Campers, cottage owners and staff at Duck Mountain Provincial Park are thanking their good fortunes that there have been no reports of serious injury following a severe wind, hail and rain storm that affected the Madge Lake core late afternoon on July 13.
Four subdivisions received damage, the Kamsack and Benito subdivisions the worst, with many cottages damaged, Greg Podovinnikoff, park manager, said two days later when describing the storm and its effects. A couple of cottages were nearly totally destroyed.
Tents and trailers were damaged at the campgrounds and there was damage to some of the park’s out buildings.
Podovinnikoff estimates that in the core area 1,500 trees, of all varieties but mainly spruce, were knocked down.
Environment Canada had issued a severe thunderstorm warning for the RM of Cote, including Duck Mountain Provincial Park, at about 4:45 p.m. on Monday.
The warming said a thunderstorm was near Kamsack and was tracking east. Environment Canada said it was capable of producing very strong wind gusts, up to nickel size hail and heavy rain.
“Normally we camp deep in the Duck Mountain forest as I am a hunter,” George (Chottie) Keewatin, a member of Cote First Nation who lives in Prince Albert, said following the storm. “This time we decided to stay in Pickerel Point Campground at the Spruce site.
“We were to leave on Sunday but my wife and I decided to stay another two days,” Keewatin said. “We were in the campgrounds with our family members celebrating the 60th birthday of my brother-in-law.
“It was an awesome weekend until then.
“Our neighbour Mark Mazur and his family, had just finished setting up, not even an hour, when the storm hit.
“In my profession I am trained to watch and predict the weather patterns and columns of clouds,” he explained. “I watched the dark clouds, hoping the wind would shift but it didn't. I went to the shoreline to get a closer look and saw black clouds coming our way. I saw the white sheet of rain hit the lake. Black clouds were a mile away and coming fast.
“I ran up yelling to all our neighbours to take shelter. ‘Its gonna be a big one,’ I said. I ushered my family into the showers (building) where they would be protected.
“When it hit us, the hail and rain hit us hard. I was holding onto our shelter canopy arbour. It lifted me twice, caved in and then popped back into shape.
“I saw 70-year-old trees bending around us. Then I heard a crack. I thought it was lightning. I looked to where the noise came from and saw two big spruce trees. Two (trees) finally snapped in Spruce (campsite number) 26 where Mark Mazur and his family just set up. One tree fell on their table and the second 75-year-old tree fell across the tailgate and bed portion of their trailer.
“The Mazurs said their son and dog had just got up and walked to the table in the camper when the tree fell within minutes of them getting up,” Keewatin said. “I immediately ran out into the storm to that trailer and yelled for them. They didn't come out for a bit, and then to my relief they finally came out.”
Mark Mazur said he and his family have long enjoyed their camping trips to Duck Mountain Provincial Park.
Mazur, his wife Tracey, their son Owen, 14, and daughter Zoey, 12, arrived at the park on July 13 from their home in Regina. He said they were pleased to discover that they were once again going to be able to enjoy their favourite campsite.
Born and raised in Canora, the son of Ernie and Julie Mazur, Mark said the campsite has been a favourite of the couple’s since before they were married.
“Tracey and I have been enjoying it since we were dating,” he said. “It’s a raised campsite which overlooks the lake through the trees. In recent years our family has been camping there about once a year.”
Mark said they had pulled into the campsite at around 2 p.m. and immediately went about setting up the camper. With that job out of the way, he got busy chopping firewood and then took a break.
“We were enjoying a drink around the picnic table,” he recalled. “At almost exactly 5 p.m., our friend and neighbour at the campground, George Keewatin, came running by and shouted ‘Big storm coming, look out!” so we figured we’d get ready for some wind and maybe a bit of rain.”
The Mazur family and their new puppy Luna headed inside the camper as the sky got darker, the wind picked up and the rain began. It didn’t take long until hail came down, and by then he said the wind had reached a dangerous velocity.
“We were all getting concerned and our daughter was really frightened,” he said. “A large tree came down, hit our truck and bounced onto the camper. It hit the corner of the camper, slid down and flattened the canvas where our son had been sitting only a few minutes earlier. We were so thankful that he had moved. No one was injured, which is obviously the most important thing.”
The camper, a hard shell unit with pop-out canvas tent ends, was pretty much destroyed and likely totalled, said Mark.
“When we went back to the campsite the next day, the hitch had been pushed down into the ground about three feet. But we managed tow the camper back to Canora.”
The Mazur family was extremely appreciative of the support they received from the other campers at the park.
“George came back with his chainsaw and did a great job in getting the tree off the camper and the truck,” Mark said. “Others helped move trees and branches that were in the way. Many stopped by just to make sure that none of us were hurt.”
The Mazur family later discovered that damage was quite widespread.
“There was a boat with a tree on top of it at Pickerel Point,” he said. “It seemed like about every third cabin at the park had a tree on the roof. Numerous tents were flattened. Campground staff initially were prevented from driving around to assist campers and assess the damage because of all the trees on the roads. But thankfully, no one was injured that we are aware of.”
Even though they lived through a scary experience, the Mazur family members are determined to visit their favourite campsite at their favourite campground again next year.
“We’ve been telling our kids, ‘Look at all the people who stopped by to help us, moving logs or asking if we were OK,” said Mark. “And besides, now we’ve got even more stories to tell about our favourite campsite.”
Keewatin said that a huge tree just 20 metres from them had been uprooted.
“Young people from Tisdale were beside us. I had told them to take cover because ‘it’s a big one.’ They left in their vehicle to the main parking lot where there were no trees to fall on them.
“The other neighbours who had booked two campsites also did the same immediately.
“In total there was about 30 people directly camped in our area.”
A former Sask Environment Initial Attack Wildland Firefighter, Conservation Officer, Park Ranger and FSIN (Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations) Resource Officer, Keewatin was the Aerial Ignition Device Operator on the 2002 Crutwell Fire that almost ravaged Prince Albert.
“With strategic planning from the chopper we were able to eliminate that danger.
“I now provide ‘values at risk’ protection services, contract and train Indigenous firefighters to become Northwind Emergency Preparedness Technicians, who are trained to become Wildland Fire Fighters and Emergency Preparedness Technicians.
“With climate change and the upcoming drastic weather conditions, we need to be prepared in all communities to protect our livelihood and minimize loss of life.”
Jack Koreluik of Kamsack decided to drive out to the Pickerel Point marina at about nine p.m. to see how his pontoon boat faired.
“I had to pick my way over and under fallen trees to get to the shoreline,” he said, adding that although most of the boats docked were damaged because trees had fallen on them, he was pleased to see that his pontoon and the one next to it were untouched.
“Within minutes of the storm’s end, staff were opening roads,” Podovinnikoff said. “They’ve been working 16 hours a day restoring power to the subdivisions and campgrounds.”
Podovinnikoff, who said the power was out for about 25 hours at the campgrounds, said he had expected power to be restored at the Kamsack subdivision by July 16.
“SaskPower has done a great job and provided a large crew to do the work,” he said.
The campground is now operating normally, although the crews are still clearing debris, Podovinnikoff said on July 15.
He was asked if he had seen anything like this storm in the 21 years he has worked at Duck Mountain.
“We had a plough wind in 2012, but this was worse,” he said, estimating that this time the storm had lasted all of eight minutes, yet did all the damage.
“There are reports of a funnel cloud that was seen north of Kamsack about the same time.
“But now everything is functioning and the park is open for business,” he said.