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Dangerous ice conditions persist in Hubbard County

Ice conditions are never 100 percent safe.

Inconsistent and unsafe ice conditions on area lakes still pose a threat to the public, according to the Hubbard County Sheriff's Office.

Within recent weeks, there have been several incidents in which people on ATVs have gone through the ice in Hubbard County, including one resulting in a fatality.

"Due to our mild weather, we simply have not had temperatures conducive to making good ice," said County Sheriff Cory Aukes in a news release Tuesday. "Yes, some of our lakes have 12 inches of good, clear ice, but on some of our deeper lakes, we still have open water. We are finding that some lakes may have 12 inches of ice in some areas, then 2 inches in other areas. That is understandable in some areas, but unexplainable in others. But that is how lake ice works."

Law enforcement recently placed "thin ice" danger signs on Island Lake, Grace Lake and Little Sand Lake.

Lakes with rivers or streams running through "deserve extra precautions, as do lakes containing springs," Aukes warns. "Watch for dark spots in the snow. This typically is a sign of water. Stay away from rivers. Even narrow lakes or narrow areas of a lake should be off limits if they have an inlet and outlet. There is just too much water movement in these areas. Stop and check the ice depth often. Once you have established a specific route as having adequate ice thickness, stay on it. Venturing off to new untraveled areas of a lake to is very risky."

That's what happened to the couple whose ATV broke through on Grace Lake, he said.

"They got lost in the snow, veered off and went down."

Despite the "nice, fluffy, five-plus inches of snow" that arrived Wednesday, the Forest Riders Snowmobile Club is "assessing conditions, but likely not grooming until the snow is a little heavier." On its Facebook page, the club advised snowmobilers that "lakes are STILL not quite safe. The ice has been very inconsistent. Always use extreme caution and remember these safety tips: Ride with a friend, tell others where you plan to go, pack a rope and bring a charged cell phone, to name a few."

Ice fatalities already above average this winter

Minnesota is on track to have its deadliest winter on the ice in years. And it's only December.

Five people have died after falling through the ice on Minnesota lakes so far this season, the most since five died over the entire winter of 2014-15, according to the Department of Natural Resources.

"With the fluctuating temperatures we've seen, that hasn't created that nice, solid, clear ice," said DNR spokeswoman Lisa Dugan. "Ice is never 100 percent safe."

Since 2007, an average of three people have died on the ice every year, with most deaths occurring toward the end of winter rather than the beginning, DNR data shows. Two people died on the ice last winter and none did in 2015-16.

All of this year's deaths happened on an ATV or snowmobile.

No ice is completely safe, agrees Aukes.

"There are just too many unknowns in dealing with freezing water, but if you pay attention to some warning signs and use common sense, you can at least limit the risks and navigate the ice safely," he said.