Game wardens are warning anyone headed out onto Maine lakes and ponds to use extreme caution after at least nine people broke through thin ice on snowmobiles in a 24-hour period this week.

All nine survived, but some of the incidents could easily have been fatal, officials said.

Rain and warm temperatures late last week deteriorated ice conditions across the state, creating ice conditions that are “very hazardous,” according to Cpl. John MacDonald of the Maine Warden Service. People headed onto lakes to ice-fish, ski or skate should also pay attention to ice conditions, he said.

“The recent return to cold temperatures should not relax the need for extreme caution on Maine’s waterways,” MacDonald said.

A Mount Desert man and two 12-year-old girls narrowly escaped with their lives after their snowmobile went through the ice Wednesday night on Long Pond in Southwest Harbor, according to officials. Eli Strauss, 43, his daughter Julia Strauss, and Jolie Beal swam to shore, where the girls waited while Eli Strauss trekked through the woods to find help.

A local police officer found the girls after hearing them shout. Eli Strauss was found unable to walk on his own because of hypothermia. All three were treated and released from Mount Desert Island Hospital.

Also on Wednesday, two Guilford men broke through thin ice on Manhanock Pond in Sangerville. Brian Gaw, 52, and Jason Goggin, 47, were operating separate snowmobiles and both struggled to get to shore when the snowmobiles became submerged. They called family for help once they got to shore.

At noon Thursday, a Denmark man and his 5-year-old daughter encountered a flooded portion of a snowmobile trail in Denmark, according to the Maine Warden Service. Stephen Glasgow, 44, and his daughter both plunged into icy water on their snowmobile but escaped and called for help. They were taken to Bridgton Hospital after a game warden found them both showing signs of hypothermia.

On Thursday evening, two teenagers broke through thin ice and nearly drowned in Long Lake in Belgrade, MacDonald said. Caleb Moore, 18, of Belgrade was operating a Ski-Doo snowmobile with his passenger, 17-year-old Joshua Stevens, also of Belgrade. They went through the ice into Belgrade Stream at the outlet of Long Pond.

Moore and Stevens were both taken to Maine General Medical Center in Augusta, where they are in stable condition.

Ice conditions are unlikely to improve this weekend as warmer temperatures move into the region. Temperatures could reach the 40s on Saturday, before dropping back down to the 20s and 30s by Monday, said James Brown, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Gray.

“Every time you warm up, you lose a little bit of ice,” he said.

Andrew Osborne, president of the Family Snowmobile Club in Bucksport, said the club is advising members and other riders to stay off bodies of water for now.

“Ice conditions up here are pretty sketchy because of all the rain last week,” he said. “It got into the lakes and actually floated the ice. It still hasn’t settled down to the natural level.”

Osborne is all too familiar with what can happen when the ice is thin. Last year, he was riding on a pond near Baxter State Park in Millinocket when his sled went into open water that had been covered by drifting snow.

“I came out of the woods onto the pond and the next thing I know I was going splash, splash into the water,” he said. “I was wet right up to my knees and my boots were full of water.”

Osborne was able to get himself and his snowmobile out of the water with help from his son, but had to ride 25 miles back to his camp in wet clothing. He suggests snowmobilers travel with a companion, even if they’re just planning to stay on trails through the woods. Osborne also said he waits to ride on lakes and ponds until ice fishermen test the ice and set up their fishing shacks.

“Once you see the ice fishermen out with their shanties, you know there’s 8 or 10 inches of ice and you’re ready to go,” he said.

MacDonald said snowmobile operators should avoid accessing lakes and ponds unless they are certain of ice conditions. He encourages those not familiar with the conditions to contact local snowmobile clubs for ice safety information. Riders can also prepare by carrying an ice pick in their pocket to use in case they go through the ice.

“Nobody is really an ice expert,” MacDonald said. “Everyone needs to use good common sense and check the ice. If you’re not absolutely sure (it’s safe), don’t go.”

Gillian Graham can be contacted at 791-6315 or at:

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