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Boreal Community Media

Video: Girl Scouts brought to safety after lightning strike in Boundary Waters

Jul 27, 2019 09:02AM ● By Editor

Another group of scouts and their guide paddle during the beginning of a storm that threatened the lives of a group of Scouts in 2013 in the BWCA . Photo from Cincinnati .com

From Minnesota Public Radio News - July 27, 2019

A group of Girl Scouts on a trip deep within Minnesota's Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness was successfully evacuated early Saturday after several reportedly were injured by a lightning strike.

The St. Louis County Rescue Squad reported that all nine members of the party arrived at the Moose Lake landing east of Ely just before 4 a.m. Saturday. 

"All patients are awake, alert, and able to move without assistance," the rescue squad reported in a Facebook update.

The group reportedly was affected by a lightning strike while on Knife Lake, as severe storms rolled across the wilderness area Friday evening. The storms produced gusty winds, some hail and lightning as they swept across the Arrowhead region.

Girl Scouts of Minnesota and Wisconsin Lakes and Pines spokesperson Nancy McMullen said the group is from Chicago and that "everyone is safe."

"The lead guide called in the lightning strike, per protocol, informed authorities of their exact location per the planned route, and said 'they believe that lightning struck the ground and they might have experienced ground current," McMullen said in an online statement.

Rescue personnel "obtained preliminary coordinates from the reporting party, which we quickly pinpointed based on the campsite number provided by the outfitter," the Rescue Squad reported. Crews "transported canoes to the first portage by motorboat, then switched to paddle/portage mode" to reach the group.

Motors are allowed in the BWCAW for emergency rescues.

To read the original article and see updates on this story, follow this link the MPR News website.

Editor's Note:  in a article previously published on earlier this year, experienced local guide Mike Bartz shared his insights on how to survive a storm in the BWCA.  Original article below.

Exclusive to Boreal Community Media - April 15, 2019

In June of 2015, Craig Walz, a 43 year old teacher from southeastern Minnesota was camping with his young son in the BWCA.  He was killed and his teenage son was seriously injured after they were struck by a falling tree as strong storms swept across the area.  Craig was a brother to Minnesota Governor Tim Walz.  A year later, it took dynamite to blast the area to clear all the entangled trees that fell during that storm. 

During that same storm, four other people were injured in two other storm-related incidents in the vast BWCA — one of them another case of a falling tree, and the other involving a lightning strike.

Mike Bartz, owner of Border Lakes Tours and Guide Service, sat down with Boreal Community Media to share some of experience on how to stay safe in the outdoors, especially during severe weather. Mike is now in his third year of operating his guide service, which operates year round. Prior to that, he worked as a DNR conservation officer for 25 years before retiring.  After retiring he worked 5 seasons as a trapper for USDA Wildlife Service trapping bears, beavers and wolves in Wisconsin.  The trapping was done for research, relocation and nuisance purposes.  In his “spare time”, Mike is active on the Search and Rescue crew and is in the process of renewing his EMT certification. 

First and foremost, Mike stated, “Wear a life jacket, no matter what your skill level or regardless of the weather”.  He said that “It makes absolutely no sense to not wear one”.  Other tips he shared are as follows:

  • Know the weather forecast before you venture out.
  • If you do get caught on the water, paddle along the shore.
  • Stay out of open water to avoid lightning.
  • If you get caught in the wind, point the bow into the wind, if you can.
  • On land, keep yourself as low as possible.
  • Avoid being near isolated trees, rock outcroppings, or peninsulas.
  • Avoid setting your tent up near dead trees or trees with broken tops.
  • Get out of your tent if trees are coming down.
  • During active lightning strikes, sit on a sleeping pad or non-conductive material.  Avoid metal, belts, knives, and zippers.  

According to Mike, burns are the most common reason for evacuation in the wilderness. Other medical injuries that commonly occur are:

  • Dehydration
  • Blisters
  • Sunburn
  • Sprains
  • Eye injuries (from branches)
  • Injury from inappropriate footwear
  • Waterborne illnesses (always make sure to boil, filter, or purify)

There are options for communication even when cell signal is not available.  Mike said that devices that communicate two-way rather than one-way are best.  He stated that affordable, used satellite phones can often be found on eBay or Craigslist.  Inexpensive pay as you go plans can often be purchased for them.  Bivystick and inReach Mini devices turn your smartphone into satellite messengers.  SPOT X and inReach devices allow two-way communication.  All of these devices including the SPOT Personal Tracker notifies emergency services of your GPS location with the push of a button.

Lastly, Mike said that people venturing out should let someone know where they are going, what route they are taking, and when they can be expected home.  

Boreal Community Media wishes to thank Mike Bartz for his time, wisdom, and service to Cook County.  To visit Mike’s business website, please follow this link:

 To read hundreds of helpful articles on emergency preparedness and outdoor and household safety, follow this link to the Boreal Emergency Preparedness Portal.

Watch a WDIO-TV Report on the Girl Scouts and safety in severe weather

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