Storm fells trees, injuring Boundary Waters campers
At least three sets of campers on different lakes in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness required emergency rescues Tuesday, after a line of intense thunderstorms blew across the region.
Officials were not sure late Tuesday whether there were additional victims still stranded in the wilderness.
“We’ve got boats and square stern canoes going out and Forest Service planes flying to see if we have more victims out there. We just don’t know how extensive the damage was from this storm,” said Curt Erickson, first lieutenant for the St. Louis County Rescue Squad.
At least five people were pinned when a tree fell on tents at a campsite on Loon Lake, Erickson said.
Two women in serious condition with multiple injuries were flown by float plane to Ely, where one woman was airlifted to a Duluth hospital and the other was transported by ambulance to Ely-Bloomenson Hospital, according to a statement by the
St. Louis County Sheriff’s Office. A third woman also was transported to Ely-Bloomenson by private vehicle with non-life-threatening injuries.
“It took quite a while just to get them out from under the tree,” Erickson said.
Earlier Tuesday in a separate but nearby incident, two people camped on Lady Boot Bay Lac La Croix were struck by a falling tree and injured. The victims were brought by boat to Crane Lake and taken to the Virginia hospital by ambulance after suffering non-life threatening injuries.
The Sheriff’s Office identified the injured as Hayden Toups, 13, of Brusly, La., and Kirk Sanchez, 47, of Port Allen, La., part of a group of 17 campers from that state.
St. Louis County Undersheriff Dave Phillips said the damage reported Tuesday from strong winds was eerily similar to July 4, 1999, when ferocious straight-line winds downed millions of trees across the BWCAW and injured many campers, stranding some for several days.
“It really does remind me of that,” Phillips said.
Because the BWCAW is so remote, it often takes several hours, sometimes more than a day, for injured parties to notify authorities of problems, although the use of cellphones and emergency locator beacons is becoming more common in the 1.1 million-acre federal wilderness.
It was a transmission from an emergency locator beacon that led officials to yet another BWCAW campsite Tuesday afternoon, between Hudson and Insula lakes northeast of Ely.
Erickson said a U.S. Forest Service Beaver float plane was dispatched with a sheriff’s deputy and an Ely paramedic to the call of a 17-year-old male who was ill or injured. The teen was part of larger group kayaking in the area. Erickson said it was unclear whether that rescue was related to the storm.
“I want to stress the great cooperation we’ve had with local first responders and the sheriff’s departments and especially the local outfitters. We had local outfitters out here transporting these people,” Erickson said.
Sandy Skrien, acting supervisor for the Superior National Forest that manages the BWCAW, said she had heard of no additional campers in peril and that all of the wilderness field crews were reported safe.
The National Weather Service in Duluth said the line of intense thunderstorms formed in west-central North Dakota on Monday afternoon and raced east at about 50 mph with widespread damaging winds clocked up to 70 mph. The phenomenon, called a derecho, was very similar to the one that struck the BWCAW in 1999. Both of the events, which include intense downbursts of wind at ground level, were triggered by unusually hot, unstable weather immediately before the storms formed.