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Boreal Emergency Preparedness Portal

Local Cook County Guide Shares Tips on Staying Safe During Severe Weather

Apr 15, 2019 05:45AM ● By Editor

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.

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