Maine: No place where ice is safe

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PORTLAND,(AP) – If there was any question about the safety of ice on Maine’s lakes and ponds, the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife removed any ambiguity on Saturday as rain fell and temperatures reached the 50s across much of the state.

Nowhere in the state is the ice on lakes and ponds safe for people to walk, much less for ride a snowmobile, said Mark Latti, the agency’s spokesman.

“It’s really not safe … anywhere,” he said Saturday.

Latti’s warning came on another day of record-breaking warmth across the state. The temperature in Portland climbed past the old record of 53 degrees at 7 a.m.

The temperature continued to climb and topped out at 67 degrees, an all-time high for January in Portland, said Jim Hayes, meteorologist from the National Weather Service. The old record was 64 degrees on Jan. 4 and Jan. 26 in 1950, Hayes said.

There was a spate of people falling through thin ice over the past week that included the death of a cross-country skier who plunged into Rangeley Lake. Three members of the Maranacook High School cross-country ski team fell through ice on Maranacook Lake in Readfield but managed to pull themselves to safety.

In the latest incident, Millinocket firefighters in cold-water rescue suits saved a snowmobiler who fell through ice on Ferguson Lake.

Jonathan Thibodeau, 20, of Medway, was badly hypothermic but still conscious when he was hauled to safety Friday, firefighters said. He was with a group of ice fisherman when he sped away on his snowmobile. The ice was 1 inch thick where he broke through.

Normally, most lakes and ponds in northern Maine are frozen by January. But the winter weather has been anything but normal. November was the warmest on record and December was the second-warmest in Portland, according to the National Weather Service.

The temperature was expected to begin dropping on Sunday but it was expected to be above-normal with highs in the upper 30s and 40s again by Wednesday, Hayes said.

Last week, wardens said some small lakes and ponds were safe for ice fishing. But with heavy rain on Saturday, Latti said it was no longer safe anywhere. People should stay off all ice “until weather conditions improve,” he said.

At least one ice fisherman has found a way to do some fishing.

James McPherson, owner of several smelt shacks, took two of his four-person “ice shacks” and set them in the Cathance River with pontoons. If the warm weather continues, he might set out more of them. “I innovated a little bit,” he said.

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