FAIRMONT - It's a sign of winter in Fairmont when small villages begin to sprout on area lakes. But there is always a need to be cautious on the ice.
"We've had good temperatures, but know the thickness before you get out there," warns Martin County Sheriff Jeff Markquart. "There is no such thing as 100 percent safe ice."
Local bait shops reported Wednesday that the lakes in Fairmont had about 6 inches of ice, while lakes outside of town had 7 to 8 inches.
LOOKING?FOR?SOME?GOOD?ONES?— A group of ice fishermen prepare their fishing spot Wednesday on the north side of Sisseton Lake in Fairmont.
The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources says 5 inches can hold snowmobiles or ATVs, while a minimum of 4 inches is needed for a person to ice fish.
At least 8 to 12 inches of ice is needed to support a car or small truck, while 12 to 15 inches is needed for a medium-sized truck.
However, these guidelines apply to new, clear ice. White ice, or "snow ice," is only about half as strong as new clear ice, and the guidelines should be doubled.
Ice-fishing enthusiasts are encouraged to check the ice thickness themselves, since ice is usually not the same thickness throughout an entire lake. It should be checked at least every 150 feet.
Tools of the trade for ice fishers include chisels and augers for checking depth, but cordless drills and tape measures can be used.
Once ice is thick enough to support vehicles, they should be parked at least 50 feet apart and moved every two hours to prevent sinking. One tip given by the DNR is to make a hole next to a vehicle. If water starts overflowing the top of the hole, the vehicle needs to be moved because it means the ice is sinking.
When driving a vehicle on the ice, be prepared to exit in a hurry by keeping the windows down, and have an emergency plan.
Snowmobilers are reminded not to overdrive their headlights, and to wear a life vest under winter gear, or a flotation snowmobile suit.
Those out on the ice also are encouraged to carry ice picks that can be used to claw back onto the ice if one does fall through.
More information on ice safety can be found at dnr.state.mn.us