Late-night storms topple trees, injure campers in BWCA

  • Article by: MARY LYNN SMITH , Star Tribune
  • Updated: July 23, 2014 - 5:35 AM

At least nine people were rescued by Tuesday night after winds pushed trees onto tents.


A group of 17 campers on Lady Boot Bay on Lac La Croix survived a storm that toppled trees on their tents and injured two campers who had to be evacuated by rescue crews.

Photo: Connor Lake, Special to the Star Tribune

CameraStar Tribune photo galleries

Cameraview larger

A beautiful July evening on the pristine waters of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness suddenly became a “war zone” early Tuesday as fierce winds dropped trees on tents in the dark of night, pinning campers and causing severe injuries.

Hours later, at least nine people were evacuated by emergency crews as others in canoes, planes and a helicopter scoured the western edge of the northern Minnesota wilderness area for others who might have been hurt in the storm.

The storm struck swiftly. About 1 a.m., a light rain gave way to flashes of lightning and rumbles of thunder. Then came a roar. “I thought it was a tornado,” said Richard Dugas, 70, of West Baton Rouge Parish, La. It was the second day of a weeklong canoe trip for him and 13 members of his family and three friends. They were camped on Lady Boot Bay on Lac La Croix, on the U.S.-Canada border.

“It was so loud, I couldn’t hear what was happening. I wasn’t sure what I was hearing,” Dugas said. “I knew something bad was going on, but I didn’t know what it was until my grandson started screaming.”

A tree fell on the edge of Dugas’ tent, where his 13-year-old grandson, Hayden Toups, was sleeping. A larger tree fell next to that. “He’s screaming and I’m hollering for help but nobody could hear me,” Dugas said.

A father in another tent threw himself on two teenage children to protect them as the wind roared and campers screamed.

Dugas isn’t sure how long the storm ravaged their campsite — maybe five or 10 minutes. “I just don’t know. It’s a blur,” he said.

He also doesn’t know how he got the tree off his grandson. “Hayden just missed a big spike of wood going right through him,” he said.

Over in another tent, another grandson and Dugas’ son-in-law, Kirk Sanchez, 47, of Port Allen, La., narrowly missed being crushed by a large pine tree. The tree’s roots kept it from falling flat, Dugas said.

As the campers crawled out or were pulled to safety, they huddled under a makeshift tarp, using a satellite phone to call for help. They tried to stay warm. They waited for daylight. They hoped for help.

Call to fishing camp for help

“The transmission was garbled and broken, so it added to the confusion,” Lt. Curt Erickson of the St. Louis County Sheriff’s Office rescue squad said Tuesday night. “Eventually it became clear that trees had fallen on some of the tents and people were hurt.”

Erickson said they knew that one man had a broken arm, possibly a broken shoulder, was having difficulty breathing and felt some chest pain. The 13-year-old boy appeared to be bleeding internally and possibly had a broken hip or pelvis, he said.

Erickson said planes couldn’t be sent to rescue them because of the darkness and poor weather conditions, and rescuers were 2½ hours away by boat. So officials enlisted Mark Zup, whose family operates a fishing camp on Lac La Croix, about 25 miles from the campers on Lady Boot Bay.

By the time Zup and an employee, who is an emergency first responder, headed out across the lake, “it was about 4:20 a.m. and still dark, but I could start to make out the shoreline,” Zup said. With 2 miles yet to go, the storm’s destruction became obvious. Large branches and treetops littered the lake, and the smell of pine that made it feel like the area had just been logged, Zup said. Large pine trees crisscrossed the campsite, with trees on top of some of the tents.

It looked like a war zone, he said.

Zup took the two injured campers to Beatty Portage, where they were met by a rescue crew. The two were then taken by boat to Crane Lake and eventually by ambulance to hospitals in the region, Erickson said.

2 women pinned under tree

  • related content

  • June 13: Scouts rescued in BWCA after storm tips canoes

    Friday June 13, 2014

    A captain with the Lake County Rescue Squad, said that all eight who were in the water at some point had on life jackets, and “without those, we probably would’ve...

  • A group of 17 campers on Lady Boot Bay on Lac La Croix survived an overnight storm that toppled trees on their tents and injured two campers who had to be evacuated by rescue crews.

  • get related content delivered to your inbox

  • manage my email subscriptions

Click here to send us your hunting or fishing photos – and to see what others are showing off from around the region.


New England 2/1/15 5:30 PM
Toronto 104 FINAL
Indiana 91
Cleveland 103 FINAL
Detroit 95
Milwaukee 109 FINAL
Miami 102
Memphis 109 FINAL
Dallas 90
Chicago 113 FINAL
Golden State 111
Washington 98 FINAL
LA Lakers 92
NY Rangers 1 FINAL
NY Islanders 4
Arizona 3 FINAL(SO)
Philadelphia 4
Winnipeg 3 FINAL
Pittsburgh 5
Washington 3 FINAL
Columbus 4
Tampa Bay 2 FINAL
Carolina 4
Dallas 2 FINAL
Montreal 3
Detroit 5 FINAL
Florida 4
Colorado 3 FINAL(OT)
Nashville 4
Buffalo 1 FINAL
Calgary 4
Minnesota 2 FINAL
Edmonton 1
Anaheim 4 FINAL
Vancouver 0
Ball State 47 FINAL
Akron 59
Northern Ill 46 FINAL
Bowling Green 56
Western Mich 71 FINAL
Buffalo 77
Ohio 40 FINAL
Eastern Mich 76
Xavier 66 FINAL
Georgetown 53
Vanderbilt 62 FINAL
Georgia 70
West Virginia 65 FINAL
Kansas State 59
Central Mich 53 FINAL
Kent State 63
Saint Josephs 48 FINAL
La Salle 53
Nebraska 44 FINAL
Michigan 58
Miami-Ohio 65 FINAL
Toledo 70
Tulsa 62 FINAL
Tulane 55
George Washington 48 FINAL
VA Commonwealth 72
Pittsburgh 67 FINAL
Virginia Tech 70
Indiana State 78 FINAL
Evansville 89
Tabor College 53 FINAL
Oral Roberts 94
Florida 52 FINAL
Alabama 50
Tennessee 64 FINAL
Arkansas 69
Texas A&M 71 FINAL
Auburn 61
Baylor 53 FINAL
Oklahoma State 64
DePaul 0 Postponed
Providence 0
Michigan State 0 Postponed
Rutgers 0
Wyoming 44 FINAL
Utah State 56
Fresno State 47 FINAL
San Diego St 58
Nevada 62
SD Christian 54 FINAL
CS-Bakersfield 79
Colorado State 78 FINAL
Boise State 82
Temple 71 FINAL
UCF 54
Campbell 42 FINAL
Presbyterian 51
Coastal Carolina 65 FINAL
High Point 73
Gardner-Webb 49 FINAL
Radford 59
UNC-Asheville 58 FINAL
Liberty 62
Winthrop 63 FINAL
Longwood 62
Columbia International 33 FINAL
Charleston Southern 74
Tulane 63 FINAL
Houston 46
(3) Baylor 89 FINAL
TCU 67
Navy 49 FINAL
American Univ 59
Valparaiso 42 FINAL
Illinois-Chicago 60
Connect with twitterConnect with facebookConnect with Google+Connect with PinterestConnect with PinterestConnect with RssfeedConnect with email newsletters





question of the day

Poll: Should the lake where the albino muskie was caught remain a mystery?

Weekly Question