Kerry Loranger's effusive with his praise and thanks for those who helped out over the weekend. 

"That was the most hectic evening I've ever been through," he said. "I don't want to go through it anytime soon."

It was shortly after 6 p.m., and a storm system had just gone through the area north of Kenora along the Winnipeg River, dropping torrential rain and hail. Then the real excitement started, Loranger recalled.

"It was one of the more vicious storms I've seen on the river, and I've been here 60 years," he said.

A bolt of lightning from the storm hit a nearby tree, travelled down to the ground, then ignited some embers near a family cottage.

By about 7 p.m., members of the Loranger family saw the smoke coming from the camp near Dufresne Island by Eagle Bay Road, and they ran to see what was going on. 

"We all went running, and it was already fully involved," he said.

"It's where I grew up as a kid. It was our family camp when I was little," he said, recalling images from his younger days.

There are now several camps on the island, and the flames quickly spread to neighbouring trees. 

"It just happened so fast," he said.

"We were very, very fortunate, because the island has three other cottages other than the one that burned down. All of the other cottages were full," he added.

With the wind, the ash was blowing from one roof to another

"All of a sudden, out of the blue, our cabin neighbours started showing up. They brought fire pumps. They brought hoses. They brought chainsaws, and we were able to get enough trees cut down to give us some separation between the fire and the rest of the island, so we didn't get the rolling up on top of the trees, where the fire could've come up here and burnt everything down. We were very fortunate and blessed," he emphasized.

With the COVID-19, Loranger says people don't always want to gather or be together, but in this case there was no hesitation, he said.

Since the camps were in an unorganized territory, they weren't eligible for a municipal fire service. When they called 9-1-1, operators said a fire department wouldn't be available.

"I was shocked. Totally, totally shocked," said Loranger. "It was like somebody punched me right in the chest."

In time, they were able to get crew from the MNRF, as well as a helicopter, to respond and help out. 

"It was very, very, very appreciated," recalled the former forest firefighter. 

Once the treetops start, the fire can roll from one to another quickly, as they build their own wind. With the help of family, friends and neighbours about 20 trees were cut to build a fire break, which stopped the spread.

"The fire crew was very much appreciated, as they worked in 40 degree humidex heat and COVID-19 times. We owe them a debt of gratitude," said Loranger, who worked a season back in 1976. 

"It's the most thankless job in the world, but they've got our praise," he said, understating the case.

"It was one of the most hectic evenings I've ever been through, and to be able to go ahead, without thinking about what's coming up the hill, because we don't know. If they hadn't been out here, we would've been up all night," he added. 

"They spent the night out here in pup tents. They put up a bunch of soaker sprinklers on the fire, so they could go to bed, too. They did a masterful job of cleaning up," Loranger said. 

The helicopter from Wildcat was also very much appreciated. The pilot filled up a bucket with water time and again, so it could be dropped on the fire. 

Wildcat Helicopters of Kelowna, B.C., contracts out their equipment and pilots to the MNRF. Wade Ross was the pilot on duty Friday night, as part of Helitac 4 at work on Kenora Fire 18. 

Without all the help, Loranger figures they probably would've lost the island.

When it was all said and done, no injuries were reported. While the family cottage was lost, and they've got no insurance, Loranger accepts it as a part of life.

"We'll just move on. We'll just rebuild it," he said.