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50 rescued from ice floes on northern Minnesota's Upper Red Lake

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Rescuers drive off Upper Red Lake
Devin Rennemo followed by Steve Geerdes, both of Kelliher Fire and Rescue, drive off Upper Red Lake after rescue efforts were complete on Monday near Roger's Resort. Nearly 50 people were stranded after several sheets of ice broke up on the lake stranding them with their ice houses.
Jillian Gandsey | Bemidji Pioneer

Updated: 4:50 p.m. | Posted: 3:49 p.m.

Dozens of stranded anglers were rescued Monday from the shifting ice on Upper Red Lake. 

When an ice floe broke loose this morning roughly 50 people found themselves on the wrong side of a widening strip of open water. 

According to the Beltrami County Sheriff's department, a series of 911 calls came in from portable ice houses a little before 10 a.m. The anglers said they were drifting away from shore on a piece of ice.   

By the time rescue crews from the Kelliher Fire Department arrived, Deputy Chief Ross Rennemo said the ice was shifting quickly. Even as they looked for safe areas to cross between sheets, he watched one narrow crack grow wider to more than 40 feet of open water. 

"It's moving all the time," he said, "depending on which way the wind is blowing."

His 10-person team launched an inflatable boat and eventually found a route for anglers to cross on foot. 

"No one got wet," he said. "It's a good outcome."

Most of the anglers were staying at Roger's Resort on the southeast corner of Upper Red Lake, 60 miles north of Bemidji. 

Co-owner Chris Freudenberg was there when the ice began to shift. He said it's been a bad year for ice fishing at his resort.  

"We've been having issues we've never had to deal with before," he said. "It just won't get cold."

Most years he said the ice is safe for ATVs and smaller houses by early November, adding that this year anglers will be lucky to have good conditions by the end of December. 

A few days ago he had a friend fly over the lake in a small plane, checking for cracks. At the time he said the lake seemed mostly stable. There were a few cracks in front of his resort, but those were bridged with sections of aluminum scaffolding strong enough to hold an ATV. 

Now he said those scaffolding bridges have been washed a mile down the shore.

"With what happened today, we have nothing in the shed to bridge that gap," he said.

This is the second ice floe rescue performed on Upper Red Lake in recent years. Two men, both off-duty sheriff's deputies had to call for help on Dec. 3, 2011 when an ice floe split from shore. 

The Beltrami County Sheriff's Office recommends anglers stay off Upper Red Lake for the time being.