During the early 20th century, fire devastated the forests and settlements of Northern Ontario three times within a space of eleven years. On July 11, 1911 Rocco Talentino walked through fire and lived to tell the tale. He tells his story to CBC interviewer, Bill McNeil.

Ground view of wildfireRocco Talentino:
I saved my life, because everything was on fire, everything. You couldn’t see ten feet ahead of you. I notice a little opening, there was a green bush, I could see the green bush you know, and there was this little opening, you know? So I said to my friend, I said ‘We’d better strike for the green bush, we might have a chance to save ourselves,’ which we did. So we followed our trail. Wood fall here and there you know and the fires confuse you all the time, you know.

Bill McNeil:
Did you save the horses?

Rocco Talentino:
Oh I had the horses. If I was to walk ahead, they would have followed me just like a person, you know, the smell of the heat, you know, the smell of the fire. You know, I saved myself and the horses.

Bill McNeil:
Rocco Talentino remembering that terrible day – July 11, 1911 – when fire destroyed the rapidly growing communities of Cochrane, South Porcupine and Potsville, parts of Timmins, Porquis Junction and gold lands. Mining camps were swept from the map and hundreds died, but Rocco Talentino was one of the lucky ones who was able to find water where he submerged himself and his horses.

Rocco Talentino:
It came so close, so my boots they got so hot, I had to take a knife and cut the top off, open.

Bill McNeil:
To cut your shoes off?

Rocco Talentino:
Oh! yes, to cut off the tops, you know. It burnt all my hair so I was baldheaded and I hadn’t a stitch of clothes on me. Everything was in the blaze.

Rocco Talentino. Interview with Bill McNeil for The Blazing Northland, commissioned by the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources on the occasion of the 50th Anniversary of the Provincial Air Service (1924-1974).
Photo Credits:
Canadian Bushplane Heritage Centre [Ground view of wildfire]
Online Exhibits
Facility Rentals Bushplane Productions Northern Nature Trading Education Program
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