FORT KENT, Maine – Rather than waiting for state officials to remove two entwined dead trees that pinned several tubers under the Fish River in Fort Kent last weekend, relatives of one of the women who nearly drowned during the incident took action Saturday morning to remove the trees themselves.
Kellie Jandreau, 30, nearly lost her life last Sunday afternoon when she and a couple of companions struck the fallen trees while floating on inner tubes on the Fish River and were pinned beneath them by rapid water currents.
The Fish River is highly traveled by water enthusiasts on non-motorized watercraft such as innertubes, kayaks, paddleboards and canoes.
When Fort Kent Town Manager Suzie Paradis learned of the incident, she immediately began working with the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife to have the trees removed from the river.
Paradis said the town had offered to remove the trees but does not have authority to do it because the river is under the purview of the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, which oversees 32,000 miles of rivers and streams.
Paradis said Thursday that state officials notified her that they had found a piece of machinery to remove the trees, but it was unclear when that would occur.
But brothers and retired loggers Gerald and Ronald Jandreau of St. Francis, uncle and father of Kellie Jandreau respectively, were not waiting on the state to take action.
“She came about as close to death as you ever would want to be,” Gerald Jandreau said of his niece. “We couldn’t wait any longer to do something to avoid another near tragedy. Being two old loggers as well as two old river rats having spent our life on the river, we kind of knew what we had to do.”
Early Saturday morning, the Jandreau brothers entered the water of the St. John River, which intersects with the Fish River, at Riverside Park and traveled upstream about 1,500 feet to the Fish River Bridge on a 20-foot Scott canoe with their chainsaw at the ready.
Gerald, 59, worked the chainsaw while Ronald, 65 held the canoe steady.
“He’s a good boat operator, that’s for sure,” Gerald said of his brother. “There was quite a mass under there. As we cut pieces we let it all go down river and separated all the brush from the bigger logs.”
The Jandreau brothers were not the only ones who had in mind removing the hazardous trees from the river before state officials could get there. When they arrived Saturday morning the brothers found Andrew Marquis, proprietor of Marquis Tree Works, standing on the Fish River shoreline.
Marquis has been in the tree removal business for 16 years and was surveying the trees with the intention of removing them himself.
He said a dead spruce and dead poplar, neither of which were attached to the shoreline, were both wedged against the bridge and definitely proposed a hazard to those traversing the river.
Gerald Jandreau said he did not notify Paradis about his and his brother’s plans to remove the dead trees.
“The logs and brush have been moved apart so the danger is no longer an issue,” Gerald Jandreau said.
Jandreau was one of 10 Fort Kent residents, including three children, who had set out for a relaxing day on the river on five inner tubes and a paddleboard last Sunday. The group entered the water at the end of Bradbury Road and planned to float several miles to Riverside Park.
The tubes, all tied together, struck the trees located under the Fish River Bridge and flipped as Jandreau, her friend Jill Pelletier, 37, and a 13-year-old girl, were sucked under the trees by a powerful current.
Two members of their party were able to pull Pelletier from beneath the trees while the youngster managed to free herself.
Jandreau said she was sure she was about to die as the powerful current pushed her deep underwater against the trees.
“Finally, somehow I got loose and the current pulled me through all the brush downstream,” Jandreau said.
Jandreau said her body was beaten and bruised, and Pelletier had breathed in water.