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On thin ice: Northwoods ice safety tips

December 24, 2019 by Kayla Houp

During the winter, it can be tempting to head out to the lakes for some ice fishing once the lakes start to freeze over, but fluctuating temperatures and heavy snow may make the ice unsafe.

“We’re in a unique situation this year,” Arbor Vitae fire chief Mike Van Meter told The Lakeland Times on Dec. 12. “We started out getting ice on the lakes and it was off to a good start, and it was a good, solid clear ice, and then we got all this snow.”

According to Van Meter, snow provides insulation, which deteriorates the ice from beneath the snow.

“Now, I’ve been hearing that some places that had four inches is only down to an inch,” he said.

Van Meter advised having at least three to four inches of ice before venturing out on foot, at least six to eight inches for snowmobiles and over 12 inches for vehicles.

“If it looks bad, it probably is bad and you probably shouldn’t be out there,” Van Meter said.

According to Woodruff fire chief Victor Gee, unless extended cold weather rolls into the area, lakes could remain unsafe for quite some time.

“Things I’ve been hearing from people that have been out fishing is the ice is thin and it’s not really consistent,” Gee said. “There’s been a lot of slush, so definitely if you are going fishing, or anything like that, make sure you’re in a well-traveled area and check ice conditions before you venture off.”

Worst case scenario

While the Arbor Vitae Fire Department hasn’t seen an incident of someone falling through the ice in several years, Van Meter offered advice on what to do if it does happen.

“The biggest thing is, when people go through the ice, panic sets in,” Van Meter said. “The water’s cold and your body instantly goes into shock, and your natural reaction is taking a deep breath.”

“Your best bet is, if you’re going to venture out now is to go with someone,” Gee said. “Hopefully you can work together to get one person out.”

However, if someone is going out alone, Van Meter suggests carrying a set of ice picks to use in the event someone falls through the ice.

“You’re gonna want to get those out and stab them in the ice to pull yourself out,” Van Meter said. “Otherwise, if you don’t have them, the best thing to do is to try and break the ice until you find some solid ice.”

Then, people should get their arms on the ice and kick their feet to guide themselves up onto the ice.

Once freed from the water, Van Meter said it was human nature to want to stand and run toward safety, but advised against it.

“A lot of times, the ice is still thin enough that, if they stand up, all that weight and pressure is directed on their feet and they end up falling through again,” he said.

Instead, Van Meter said people should lay flat to disperse weight evenly across the ice and crawl at least 10 to 15 feet away from the open water before slowly getting to their feet.

After that, getting someplace warm is imperative. In cold air and water temperatures, hypothermia can set in within minutes, creating another dangerous situation.

Kayla Houp may be reached via email at [email protected]

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