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Two fatalities reported after severe storms sweep across Quetico, Boundary Waters

An injured camper was flown out of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness by U.S. Forest Service floatplane pilot Pat Loe Thursday morning after a windstorm last night knocked trees down on Basswood Lake. Attending to the victim were staff from the Ely Area Ambulance Service. The injured party suffered non-life-threatening injuries. Two campers died in the windstorm when trees fell on their campsite around 3 a.m. Photo by Hailey Worth, Ely Echo Newspaper

Two people died and others were injured after Thursday’s destructive line of thunderstorms ripped across the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness and Quetico Provincial Park early Thursday, with the same storm downing trees, blocking roads and knocking out power in the Ely area.

It appeared that Basswood Lake on the Minnesota-Ontario border was a hard-hit area, with the Ontario Provincial Police confirming two fatalities in the Prairie Portage area of the lake.

The St. Louis County Rescue Squad assisted Lake County authorities in responding to the scene, and Dave Phillips, St. Louis County undersheriff, said there were nine campers in the group with at least two injuries in addition to the fatalities.

The group was with the Northern Tier National High Adventure Base program, affiliated with the Boy Scouts of America. Ontario authorities identified the victims as Rorth Lac, a 39-year-old woman from Carrollton, Texas, who was serving as a volunteer; and Christian James Sanchez, 13, of Lewisville, Texas. Lac and Sanchez died when trees fell on them.

The two injured people were taken by U.S. Forest Service floatplane to Ely and treated at the Ely hospital for non-life-threatening injuries, officials said.

“This is a very difficult time for our Scouting family,’’ a statement from the Boy Scouts of America said. “We are working with authorities now to notify the families of those involved and will support them in any way we can.”

A Forest Service report said the incident took place in the Ontario side of the U.S.-Canada border in Quetico Provincial Park just before 4 a.m..

“This is a very difficult time for our Scouting family,’’ a statement from the Boy Scouts of America noted. “We are working with authorities now to notify the families of those involved and will support them in any way we can.”

A Forest Service float plane was dispatched to site at dawn Thursday morning, said Gus Smith, Kawishiwi District ranger. There were multiple reports of satellite distress signals in the area, Smith said, but as of Thursday evening there were no other confirmed reports of serious injuries or deaths.

“The State Patrol did a great service to us and did an aerial recon of the area we thought was hardest hit. They got no visual distress signals from anyone else in that area,” Smith said.

Telephone and power were out in much of the Ely area Thursday, including to the U.S. Forest Service Kawishiwi Ranger Station in Ely.

Fernberg Road and Cloquet Line were littered with trees after the pre-dawn storm, but most major roads were passable by mid-morning, Smith said.

Areas closed or impassable as of Thursday evening included the Public Burntside Assess on Van Vac Road (downed power line); Snowbank Lake Road; Woodlake Portage; Newton and Pipestone Portage; Bass Lake Trail Portage; Lake 2 Portage; Clear Lake Portage to North Kawishiwi River Portage; Little Rice to Slim Lake; Slim Lake to the parking lot; Crab Lake; Snowbank Lake Road.

It’s the second fatal storm incident this summer in the border wilderness. Storms in the BWCAW on June 19 left one camper dead and five others injured in three separate incidents.