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With reports of ice conditions ranging from five inches in some areas to open water in others, at least 15 people had to be rescued after falling through the ice and into the frigid waters of Houghton Lake, according to Roscommon County 911 Director John Bawol. He said Roscommon County Central Dispatch responded to seven reports of recreational vehicles, including snowmobiles and four-wheelers, which went through the ice.

With the first weekend of Tip-up Town 2007 underway, many recreational vehicle riders disregarded warnings and traveled onto the lake’s unstable ice to their peril, with some barely making it out of the water alive.

Lake Township Fire Chief Ron Martin said his department rescued eight people altogether, including three on Friday night and five on Saturday night. Some of the trouble occurred after the fireworks display which was conducted on the lake 260 yards off shore in front of the Tip-up Town site.

Houghton Lake Chamber of Commerce President Dave DenBoer, who is also a member of the Tip-up Town Executive Committee, said vehicle traffic along the shoreline during the day and evening had created a band of “mushy” ice which extended from about five yards from shore to around 40 yards out.

Snowmobile trailers which were being used to transport fireworks equipment back to shore after the show went through the ice when they hit the soft area, and had to be winched off the lake. A large amount of fireworks equipment was still left on the ice, and Roscommon County Sheriff Francis Staley called in an airboat belonging to the Lake Township Fire Department to assist in retrieving the heavy wooden racks and steel pipes, which he said were a potentially deadly hazard to snowmobiles and other traffic on the lake.

Lake Township Assistant Fire Chief Dave Russo said the airboat made three trips to retrieve all the fireworks equipment from the ice. In the process, the 18-foot long air boat opened up an area of broken ice and open water about 60 feet wide and a quarter of a mile long from the fireworks site to the foot of Gasoline Alley where it put in.

At least eight vehicles, including five snowmobiles and three four-wheelers, fell into the newly created channel, and the Lake and Roscommon Township Fire Departments participated in five rescues. Russo said the airboat was called back into action at 1:30 a.m. Sunday, when a pair of snowmobiles went in, and again at 3:30 a.m. when three four-wheelers went in.

Phil Hendershott of Phil’s Auto and Truck Repair, Houghton Lake, said he and four other workers were on the lake at about 1:30 a.m. trying to retrieve a snowmobile from seven feet of water, when they saw two snowmobiles go over the broken ice, one making it, the other sinking in chest-deep water.

The first snowmobiler then turned around and tried to drive back to the sled that had gone in, only to go in himself. Both riders, a man and a woman, had to be rescued as the extreme cold quickly overtook them.

Hendershott said his crew also had a close call when a snowmobiler, riding at what he estimated to be around 90 mph, missed hitting their 16-foot aluminum rowboat by about two feet, launching a piece of ice which hit one of the men in the boat, knocking him unconscious.

“Ice conditions are just terrible,” said Hendershott. “It’s just not safe out there, and I don’t know if it’s going to be that much better next weekend.”

“The fortunate thing is we didn’t have a fatality,” said Staley
 

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I was up last weekend and it seemed fine. It was open around the canals, dams, and rivers, but seemed solid otherwise around the shoreline. I still don't know if I would go out to the middle of the lake though. I am heading up this weekend too. It will be nicer than last weekend as far as traffic goes. The south shore line looked like I-696 during rush hour.
 
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