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A message to ice travelers

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Be careful out there. Never assume the ice is 100 percent safe and don't think it's always "other people" who fall through the ice.

This winter has been a deadly one in Minnesota. The Department of Natural Resources (DNR) reports that the 2012-2013 season, November to April, is on track to be the deadliest on the ice in more than five years.

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So far this winter, five people have died after going through the ice in Minnesota. A sixth person is missing and presumed drowned. In the 2006-2007 winter season, eight people died in ice-related incidents.

"There could be several reasons why so many people have died this year," said Kara Owens, DNR boat and water safety specialist. "It could be there are more people out on the ice because we have had a cooler winter and more snow."

According to the DNR, all the fatalities this winter involved a snowmobile or vehicle either crashing into open water or breaking through the ice.

As the winter starts to wind down and Minnesotans enter the last weekend in February, Owens put out an urgent message for winter enthusiasts: "The bottom line is it's crucial that people do not let their guard down and recognize ice is never 100 percent safe."

Here's a look at the fatalities by winter season:

2012-2013 - 6 (includes one missing and presumed drowned).

2011-2012 - 4.

2010-2011 - 4.

2009-2010 - 1.

2008-2009 - 2

2007-2008 - 3.

2006-2007 - 8.

The DNR recommends anyone heading out on the ice should measure the ice thickness and contact a local bait shop or resort about area ice conditions.

Remember the ice thickness guidelines: 2 inches or less - stay off; 4 inches - ice fishing or other activities on foot; 5 inches - snowmobile or ATV; 8 to 12 inches - car or small truck; 12 to 15 inches - medium truck.

The DNR stresses that the guidelines are for new, clear solid ice. That's typically not the case on every lake, and many factors other than thickness can cause ice to be unsafe. White ice or "snow ice," for example, is only about half as strong as new clear ice. Those venturing out on that kind of ice should double the thickness guidelines.

Ice conditions on a lake can also change quickly. Ice may be safe one week but dramatically weaken the next. People should never assume that the ice will be safe once it freezes over and winter sets in.

In the last seven winters, 28 lives came to a tragic end for people who thought the ice was "safe enough" to catch a fish, snowmobile or drive or walk across. Don't add to those numbers. Check the ice. Don't take unnecessary risks. Be careful out there.

Alexandria Echo Press

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