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Thin ice: Officials warn to stay off ponds and river

West Fargo Fire Chief Dan Fuller warns residents that playing around retention ponds is dangerous.David Samson / The Forum

Although November temperatures have quickly dropped, officials are warning residents to not test the ice on retention ponds by walking out on them.

Fire Chief Dan Fuller said fire officials checked ice on some of the larger ponds in West Fargo and found the ice to be about 2 to 5 inches thick. Ice that is 4 inches or more in thickness will likely support the weight of one or two people, but a group, even of kids, on the pond ice could easily break.

Fuller said there are about 15 retention ponds in West Fargo, some as deep as 12 feet.

For new, clear ice, Department of Natural Resources officials said people should stay off unless it is 2 inches or less. Five to 7 inches of ice is recommended for snowmobiles and ATVs, eight to 12 inches for a car or small pickup and at least 12-15 inches for a medium truck.

If a person does go through the ice on a pond or river, experts say it's safest to roll to land rather than walking or crawling.

The Sheyenne River has frozen in some areas, but there are still patches of open water and the ice is not yet thick.

"We always recommend no one go on the river at all," Fuller said. "It's starting to get there, but it's still patchy."

In 2015, 34-year-old Cole Schwindt of Moorhead disappeared while riding a snowmobile on the frozen Sheyenne River. After many organized searches, Schwindt's body was found in March 2016, about 800 yards downstream from where authorities believe Schwindt entered the river.

Shortly after, the West Fargo Fire Department was able to buy nearly $30,000 in new water and ice rescue equipment through private donations and gaming operations at local bars.

The fire department obtained a 16-foot Zodiac Grand Raider boat with 20hp Mercury Outboard and trailer, life safety ropes and four sets of ice/water rescue suits and helmets, along with a 15-foot Oceanid Rapid Deployment Craft, life safety ropes and four sets of ice/water rescue suits and helmets. Prior to 2016, the department had only one boat, a 1967 aluminum craft.

Along with rescues, the colder weather has historically resulted in additional home fire calls for the department.

Fuller said cooking is the No. 1 cause of home fires in the city, and he reminds residents that in the event of a grease fire to never use water but smother flames with baking soda or towels.

Attempts to warm up homes can also be tricky if space heaters overload extension cords.

Residents should also check the national recall list as a recent recall of dehumidifiers has caused fires.

In October, a West Fargo home fire was started by one of the faulty dehumidifiers on recall. Although the fire was contained to the basement room where it started, there was still smoke damage to the whole house, Fuller said.

The national recall list can be found at

Residents can always call the fire department at 701-433-5380 if they have any questions about their small appliances or other fire risks.

Wendy Reuer

Wendy reports for The Forum and West Fargo Pioneer, where she is also assistant editor. A University of Minnesota Morris graduate from North Dakota, Wendy started her career in television news and entertainment in Minnesota and at CBS in Television City, Calif. before working at newspapers in Minnesota and North Dakota. 

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