A camper trailer and truck remain partially submerged in the water of Balsam Bay after five vehicles broke through the ice on Lake Winnipeg over the weekend.
Colleen Sailor, Rural Municipality of St. Clements acting chief administrative officer, said three people were pulled from the frigid waters by bystanders.
"With our fall, odd freeze, there's crazy ice out there. It's all frazil ice, it's not safe. We haven't had cold enough weather for anybody to be on any water body yet," Sailor said. "We strongly encourage people to wait, for safety reasons, until the ice is thick enough."
Lee Nolden, an ice fisher with 20 years of experience in the area, said a truck pulling a camper drove onto the ice early Sunday too close to the breakwater on the east side of Lake Winnipeg at Balsam Harbour (along Provincial Road 500, about 13 kilometres north of Patricia Beach).
"It's too early for that and there's not enough ice," Nolden said. "When the truck and trailer broke through, it cracked the ice and made an opening, and that's where the other three guys went in."
"I would be leery even walking out there." – Colleen Sailor, chief administrative officer of the Rural Municipality of St. Clements
The East Beaches Fire and Rescue service was dispatched to the area and paramedics provided assistance to the three people who fell through the ice, Sailor said. No major injuries were reported.
Nolden said the break in the ice was not marked off, and drivers continued to follow the path past the weakened area.
Ice fishers and people in the area shared videos and photos of the sunken vehicles on social media Sunday afternoon. One video posted to Facebook appears to show the cab of a half-ton truck submerged in the water and an occupant climbing out onto the ice.
Sailor said an individual in the area with a large truck helped pull three of the sunken vehicles out of the lake.
"Our fire department was there with their immersion suits, so if they had to go into the water they were prepared, and they had their ice-rescue equipment should they need it," Sailor said.
The owners of the camper and truck still in the lake will have to organize the retrievals when ice conditions improve, Sailor said.
Sailor said it's unusual to have so many vehicles break through the ice in a short period of time, and cautioned anyone planning to head out onto the lake. "I would be leery even walking out there."
The past two winters have been kind to ice fishers on Lake Winnipeg with early season freezes and access as early as mid-December, Lake Winnipeg Outfitters owner David Saindon said.
"The ice conditions are happening earlier and so people are pushing the boundaries a little earlier," said Saindon, who has been working in the area for the last 15 years. "What’s happening this year, especially, is the ice came in and it froze, but we didn’t get the double-digit temperatures we've gotten the past year.
"So people think it’s safe, but it's a false pretense," Saindon said. "The conditions aren't there properly."
Hundreds of people were out on the ice at Balsam Bay hoping to get established before a major snowfall, he said.
"With the freeze, how it's been already this year, even with the cold temperatures, people still need to be aware of the conditions," he said. "It's always a danger when you go on the ice and you're unprepared."
Christopher Love, water smart co-ordinator for Lifesaving Society Manitoba, said fall precipitation has elevated water levels across the province and it's best to be cautious around ice forming on Manitoba's lakes and rivers.
"The unprecedented high water levels certainly are something that is of concern, because it can mean weak or unpredictable, unstable ice for the entire winter season here in the province," Love said.
As water levels return to normal, high currents can erode ice from below or leave pockets of air beneath seemingly stable ice, Love said.
Snowmobilers, ice fishers, and people planning to spend time on the frozen lakes and rivers this winter should check in with the local municipality and independently confirm ice depths before heading out, Love said.
"Because this is an unprecedented season, our advice to everybody is avoid the ice for the time being," he said.
Updated on Monday, December 9, 2019 at 5:19 PM CST: Final version