The ice is spotty, so keep off

This winter, the Yukon’s Southern Lakes district didn’t freeze. Well, it didn’t freeze enough to make travel over its lakes and…

This winter, the Yukon’s Southern Lakes district didn’t freeze.

Well, it didn’t freeze enough to make travel over its lakes and rivers safe.

So, Carcross RCMP are warning people to keep off the ice.

Ice may not be stable or thick enough to support the usual winter activities, warn RCMP, which has ramped up its warning following the death of a snowmobiler on Tagish Lake on the weekend.

Although police have not released the name of the deceased, pending permission from the family, The News learned it was Tagish resident Frank Estrada.

The 52-year-old went through the ice on his snowmobile sometime after 10 p.m. on Friday, near where Tagish Lake meets the Six Mile River.

After receiving a call at 1:50 a.m. Saturday saying that Estrada was overdue, RCMP began investigating.

Ice fog was thick that night, and visibility was poor, said Cpl. Eric Hendriks of the Cacross detachment.

Those conditions hindered the RCMP investigation and may have contributed to the accident.

The adverse conditions forced police, search and rescue, emergency services and volunteer firefighters to delay their search until dawn.

A team of about 20 people found Estrada’s body at about 4:50 p.m., according to police.

This is the first fatality attributed to poor ice conditions this winter, said Hendriks.

“With the warm weather, you don’t know where there may be moving water and where there may not be,” he said in an interview yesterday.

“Something that may appear safe on the surface could be rotten from the bottom up.”

He warned that in any body of water with a current, the thickness of ice can vary greatly over a short distance, making conditions unpredictable.

Yukon Electric has also taken action to prevent ice-related accidents this winter.

Signs have been posted around its hydroelectric generating station at the number two head pond, part of the Fish Lake hydro plant.

The thin-ice issue came up at a recent safety meeting, after workers noticed ice-fishing holes and tire marks on the frozen pond near the station, said spokesperson Ed Sager.

There is a constant flow of water through that area, Sager said Tuesday.

“Flowing water means uncertain ice conditions,” he said.

The pond’s water level can also rise and fall drastically.

“That pond can fluctuate as much as two feet over a two- or three-day period, depending on the inflow and the weather and how much we’re drawing off to generate electricity,” he said.

“If that happens, you know, you can have conditions where the ice sheet is actually not supported by the water underneath.”

There is often open water at the west end of the pond, with beavers working there throughout the winter months, he added.

While the weather trends for all of 2005 are not due until the end of this week, a recent report from Environment Canada shows December was unseasonably warm.

With temperatures periodically rising well above zero, many waterways may not have had the requisite deep freeze for safe travel.

“It’s been an unusual winter,” said Bill Miller, spokesperson for the Yukon weather station.

November was particularly rainy while December had no rain and little snow, he noted.

Temperatures often rose above zero this past month, making it the seventh of the 10 warmest Decembers since 1942.

In December, Carcross was the warmest region in the territory. Its average temperature was minus 6.2 Celsius, a full 7.5 degrees above normal, according to Miller.

“With unseasonably warm temperatures, current ice conditions remain treacherous and are constantly changing,” Hendriks wrote in a release.

“Police urge the general public to exercise caution and avoid the ice at all costs.”