Camping Tragedy

Camping Tragedy (Image 1)

Girl, 10, killed by falling tree branch while sleeping in a tent on family camping trip during a storm.

According to reports, Allison Spahr of Cary, Illinois, was begging her dad to let the family stay at the Ice Age Campground at Devils Lake State Park in Wisconsin.  The only problem was that there was a threat of severe weather.

Her father agreed, so they slept beneath some trees this past Saturday night.  Allison’s 13-year-old brother was also along. 

Just before 4am on Sunday, Mr. Spahr said he awoke to the sound of creaking. 

“I can hear that sound over and over – that creaking, cracking sound,” Spahr says. 

In just seconds, it was chaos.

“The loud crash, boom on the ground,” Spahr says.  “My legs were immediately pinned and it hurt.  I had this shooting pain in my legs.  And my tent was flattened across my face.”

But at the father cried out in pain, Allison was silent. 

Mr. Spahr says the tree branch fell across his daughter’s chest.  Allison was pronounced dead at the scene. 

The son, Kyle, was able to get free to safety.  Mr. Spahr had to be cut free with the use of a chainsaw.  Both father and son were taken to the hospital and have now returned home to Illinois. 

Such a tragedy, and while not all accidents can be prevented, there are ways to stay safe while camping during severe weather.

First, park officials say the tree appeared to be healthy during routine checks.  They, however, believe the tree may have weakened by the passing thunderstorm. 

All it takes is one thunderstorm or heavy rain to saturated the ground, and this can cause a tree to completely uproot.

Here is some safety advice when camping….

If severe weather strikes, get away from trees immediately.  Leave tents, cars and campers.  Go to a sturdy shelter or building.  If there is nothing available, get in your vehicle but still get away from trees. 


  • Move to the campground shelter house.  Get on your knees and cover your head.
  • If there is not a shelter house, evacuate your tent or camper and lie flat in a depression, such as a ravine, and cover your head with your hands.
  • Never get in your vehicle to escape a tornado!

Lightning, Wind and Hail:

  • If tenting, move to the shelter house or your hard-topped vehicle.
  • If no shelter is available, seek refuge in a cave or under a thick grove of trees that are taller than your tent.

Flash Floods:

  • Never camp next to streams, creeks, or rivers as heavy rain can cause water levels to rise rapidly.
  • Never cross rain swollen creeks, rivers, or streams as the under-currents will carry you downstream.
  • If flash flooding does occur, move to higher ground immediately!

(Sources:  NBC Chicago, Chicago Tribune, WQAD and the National Weather Service)

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