The Fairbanks Fire Chief is urging extreme caution for anyone venturing out on the Chena River from now until the end of winter.

For people thinking of going out for a walk on the river, Tod Chambers, chief of the Fairbanks Fire Department, has this advice: “Stay off, you just can’t trust it.”

In years past, the Chena would be safe to walk out on right now. But currently, the thickness of the ice on the Chena is extremely variable. Sections of river ice that appear to be thick enough to support the weight of an adult may actually be unable to support the weight of a small child or even a pet. The winter has not been consistently cold enough for a deep freeze, he said.

“There’s always a danger for walking on the ice,” Chambers said. “Respect the river.”

One Fairbanks resident, retired nurse Sherry Wolf, 72, learned all too personally the danger of thin Chena River ice on Feb. 7 when her dog, Helen, was out for a walk with Wolf’s husband. The dog was walking without a leash near Snedden Park, and it stepped on a thin patch of ice. Immediately, it went right through the surface of the river into the frigid waters below. The current ripped her under the ice, out of sight.

“I just keep thinking of her under the ice,” Wolf said. “If that had been a child, there’s no way they could get out.”

Wolf said the loss of her dog has been a major hit. She had Helen since June 2018.

“She was gentle and sweet. She followed me around all the time. If I went to the kitchen and she would always follow me there,” she said. “I don’t want anyone going down there by the river. You don’t know where the holes are, you don’t know where the weak spots are.”

Contact staff writer Will Morris at 459-7504.