BRAINERD, Minn. - Many resorts on Mille Lacs Lake advised ice anglers to leave the lake Sunday morning to avoid hazardous conditions and the unheeded advice led to about 100 vehicles stuck on the ice Sunday night and into Monday waiting for plows.
“Some of them did [leave]; some of them didn’t,” Aitkin County Sheriff Dan Guida said Monday evening, Feb. 25.
With wind speeds measuring at 40 mph at the Brainerd Lakes Regional Airport over the weekend prompted the warning for anglers, which included a mother and her 4-month-old baby.
Guida said the sheriff’s office started receiving calls from anglers on the large central Minnesota lake Sunday night, asking for a plow to come help them get their vehicles out. After confirming all the callers had shelter, heat and food, deemed themselves safe and were not in emergency situations, Guida said the anglers were told to call if anything changed, but there wasn’t much else the sheriff’s office could do.
“They fished until Sunday night and then they started calling us because they thought they basically could just call and say, ‘Hey, I’m 6 miles out on the lake, I’m ready to go home, come plow my truck out,’” Guida said.
Both Aitkin and Mille Lacs counties, along with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, had snowmobiles out on the lake Sunday night offering to bring people in if they wanted.
“Those people would not come in without their vehicles,” Guida said, noting the Aitkin County Sheriff’s Office doesn’t have a plow service. “And it wasn’t an emergency.”
Mille Lacs County Sheriff Don Lorge said his search and rescue officer brought one person in on a snowmobile Sunday night, though it wasn’t an emergency. The search and rescue officer was out again Monday making sure there was nothing to be concerned about. The Mille Lacs County Sheriff’s Office, Lorge said, did not receive any 911 calls from the lake Sunday or Monday.
Additionally, Guida said resort workers set out with food and backup propane to make sure those stranded had what they needed.
One of the biggest issues Guida noticed was the case of a mother in a rented fish house at Barnacles Resort with her 4-month-old baby, unable to get their car back through the snow.
“When they were told to leave, they didn’t. They were advised not to go out very far, and they went out pretty far,” Guida said. “And they were out there in a car, just a whole bunch of silly things that occurred.”
Despite the many anglers trapped in their fish houses overnight, Guida said there wasn’t a “super hyper crisis emergency” situation many may have made it out to be.
“It was no different than you being at your house getting stranded, except you weren’t free to move about,” Guida said. “There were some people that were upset to the nth degree because they paid money to go out on a lake road that was maintained and that they weren’t out immediately.”
By 8 p.m. Monday, Guida said nearly everyone who needed to get off the ice did so, with a couple stragglers left in their fish houses but aware resort workers were on their way.
Barnacles Resort had four vehicles out plowing, Guida said, though 7 or 8 miles of road is a lot to plow when the snow is packed together as much as it was.
“The resorts had a heck of a job to do,” he added, “and they did very well.”