The Crystal Beach ice caves – with a life expectancy of perhaps only a couple more days because of the warm temperatures heading this way – have become quite an attraction for residents of southern Ontario and even the Buffalo area.
“We’ve got a lot of people out on the ice now,” Fort Erie Fire Chief Larry Coplen said early Monday afternoon. “I’m estimating several thousand.”
The ice caves, only a few miles straight across Lake Erie from downtown Buffalo, also have become somewhat dangerous.
Two people have been hurt in tumbles on the slippery terrain covering a frozen Lake Erie: one suffered a suspected concussion, the other a possible broken hip, Fort Erie fire officials said Monday.
“We’re asking anyone who comes here to remember that it is ice,” Coplen said. “It is very slippery, and it is rough terrain. They should wear appropriate footwear and be very careful.”
So many people showed up at the site Monday, a holiday in both Canada and the U.S., that they created another hazard. Vehicles parked on side streets were blocking access for emergency vehicles.
So authorities had to close a few nearby roads, and started the process of towing cars that were blocking access.
In addition, authorities used police tape and pylons to close off probably the most dangerous of the ice structures, a roughly 12-foot-high ice “bridge” on the edge of the frozen lake.
The unusual ice formations appeared last month, when sustained high winds pushed free-floating pieces of ice onto the shore with great force. When the leading edge of the ice hit the shore, the ice behind it, with nowhere else to go, piled on top, creating weird shapes and configurations.
The ice structures that were created have openings large enough for people to crawl or walk through.
The first reported injury occurred Sunday, when an approximately 60-year-old man fell and struck his head. Although he was knocked unconscious, he eventually walked from the scene before being taken to the hospital.
At about 1 p.m. Monday, an approximately 65-year-old woman from Pelham, Ont., slipped on the ice and injured her hip.
Coplen was asked about reports that the stretch of ice castles had become a chaotic scene Monday.
“It’s orderly chaos,” he replied, saying that the long icy stretch itself is calm. “It is chaos on the outside, just getting to and from the area.”
Authorities, though, aren’t asking people to stay away. They’re proud of this natural wonder.
“This is definitely a once-in-a-lifetime thing,” Coplen said. “I don’t know if we’ll see anything like this again. People should come over and see it, as long as they’re careful and safe.”