Voyageurs National Park staff urge visitors to stay off the ice during this time of year, even when lake shores and bays appear to be completely frozen over.
Ice conditions are dangerous this time of year, and traveling across thin ice creates extreme danger to people who may need rescue and also to the rescuers, VNP staff said in a news release.
Sudden immersion in cold water can cause rapid, uncontrolled breathing, entrapment beneath the ice, shock, loss of consciousness, cardiac arrest, and other physical conditions that can lead to drowning. Death can occur within the first minutes of sudden immersion in freezing water.
Though ice may appear safe and inviting, ice thickness and quality currently vary widely, sometimes even within the range of a single footstep.
“Be safe,” urges VNP staff. “Don’t go out on the ice this time of year.”
Ice safety was also stressed by the Beltrami County Sheriff’s Office, after it received several official and unofficial reports Tuesday that people fishing on Upper Red Lake had become stranded on the ice after winds caused the ice to separate from shore.
Sheriff Ernie Beitel reported that 11 known people were rescued by Kelliher Fire & Rescue with reports of many others being rescued by local resorts.
The exact number rescued is unknown to the Beltrami County Sheriff’s Office after it learned that rescue personnel were contacted directly to rescue people off the floating sheets of ice, the report said.
The Beltrami County Sheriff’s Office or 911 dispatch center were not called, circumventing the safe procedures put in place that keeps all first responders as safe as possible during these rescue operations, said Beitel.
Early cold weather has resulted in the lake beginning to ice over earlier than usual with a mixed report on the thickness of the ice.
“Social media accounts are being used to exploit how safe the ice is, when it isn’t,” Beitel said in the report. “Ice is never 100 percent safe and it is absolutely unsafe this early in the winter fishing season.”
On Wednesday, the Beltrami County Sheriff’s Office contacted the Red Lake area resorts and asked them to not allow anglers out on the unsafe ice.
“Doing so risks the lives of our first responders and in Beltrami County, like most Minnesota rural areas, our first responders are volunteers — they are our family, our friends, and our neighbors,” Beitel said. “Please do not put their lives at risk.”