Officials urge safety around swift, cold river waters

With the forecast for toasty temperatures in the triple digits, area lakes and rivers are expected to draw Independence Day crowds. But public safety officials warn that rivers are flowing swifter and higher than usual for the July 4 weekend.

The California Department of Boating and Waterways predicts that this will be a dangerous summer for water enthusiasts. Officials reported that more boaters have died in swift-water river accidents in the first six months of 2011 than during any comparable period on record.

Rivers are running faster and colder than usual, and lakes are higher, masking underwater hazards that were exposed in previous years, Lucia Becerra, acting director of the Department of Boating and Waterways, said in a written statement.

One of the biggest safety concerns, officials said, is the use of flotation devices, such as lightweight rafts which typically are designed for swimming pools or calm waters. They warn that these devices can easily lose air or be punctured by debris or tree branches, and should not be used during this period of high, swift and cold water conditions.

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Folsom Lake jam packed for Fourth Of July weekend

Hundreds of boaters and campers were expected to pack Folsom Lake this Fourth of July weekend. Beals Point campground was already full as of Saturday morning. Some campers said they had to make reservations months in advance. Campers said it’s no doubt going to be chaotic when all the boats get in the water at the same time. Park rangers suggest drivers get to the park by noon to get a parking spot.

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Run through River Park set for Fourth

The free Fourth of July five-mile run will again be held this year in Sacramento’s River Park neighborhood.

Sponsored by the Buffalo Chips running club, the five-miler through the leafy environs of one of Sacramento’s quieter neighborhoods begins at 8 a.m. Runners must sign a waiver, but that’s the only requirement.

The run begins near Glen Hall Park, located along the American River Sandburg and Carlson drives.

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Concerns mounts over 4th of July river safety

Fire rescue crews are worried about river safety on the upcoming 4th of July weekend.

With thousands of rafters, kayakers and swimmers expected to flood Valley rivers, fire and rescue workers are concerned over how many people are still not prepared for this year’s high, fast water.

“I’ve had so many people tell me, if the raft flips over I can take care of my son or I can take care of my child,” said Sacramento Metro Fire Battalion Chief Charles Jenkins, “when you put them in 58 degree water that water takes the air out of you, you can’t breathe, panic sets in and now you’ve got to worry about yourself.”

Even as he spoke, a trio of rafters prepared to put in just a few feet away near the Sunrise walking bridge on the American River.

When Alex Strouse of Sacramento was asked if the three had life jackets, he just laughed, adding he is a good swimmer.

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Patrols scramble to rescue overwhelmed rafters on American River

On the first day of summer, standing in the sparse shade of trees lining the American River, Patrick Ellis eyed a group of rafters as they swept toward a bike/pedestrian bridge near Sunrise Boulevard.

“These guys, their rafts are tied together, they’re not wearing life preservers, not even attempting to paddle,” Ellis said Tuesday.

Ellis, a battalion chief with the Sacramento Metropolitan Fire District, knew that hours before, the current had caught a similar group and smacked a raft against a pylon as they tried to pass under the bridge. Two rafters fell into the river and swam to shore. Two others clung to the pylon until a rescue boat picked them up.

Now, Ellis saw the makings of yet another water rescue – potentially the sixth on the river in 24 hours.

As he tracked their progress from shore, the two rafts disappeared for a moment under the bridge. Then they came rushing through, untouched, and resumed their drift downriver.

“They’re lucky,” Ellis said.

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Planned Fifty-five acre controlled burn in Foresthill next week

On Tuesday, June 28th, the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (CAL FIRE) Nevada-Yuba-Placer Unit in cooperation with the US Bureau of Reclamation, California State Parks, Placer County, and the CAL FIRE Vegetation Management Program will conduct a 55 acre prescribed burn under the Foresthill Bridge in Placer County. The burn will occur directly under the bridge in the Middle Fork American River Canyon, approximately one mile northeast of Auburn.

CAL FIRE is conducting this prescribed burn as part of an ongoing fuel reduction project to minimize potential wildfire risk. The primary purpose is to reduce hazardous fuel below the Foresthill Bridge, allowing Placer County to safely perform ongoing seismic retrofit activities. The project serves several other functions as well: reducing the potential for fires caused by fireworks each year around the 4th of July, allowing firefighters to experience wildland firefighting tactics in a controlled environment, and providing a fuel break that can be used in the future to stop or slow a major fire.

The burn will start at 10:00 a.m. and continue into the evening hours. It will consist of two burn units, one on the east side of the river and one on the west side. Smoke will be visible from Interstate 80, Highway 49, Auburn, Foresthill, and surrounding communities.

Resources including fire engines, hand crews, bull dozers, and a helicopter will work to keep the fire within existing containment lines. Firefighters working in firing teams will work to control the fire intensity and ensure the fire progresses in a safe manner. CAL FIRE resources will continue to check the area for several days.

Sacramento boat patrols to be eliminated

The Sacramento Fire Department’s two boat patrols are set to be eliminated due to budget cuts in mid-July. 

That announcement comes a day after Sacramento City, Sacramento Metro and the Folsom Fire Departments made nearly two dozen rescues on the water during “Operation River Safe”.”

In the past five days, we’ve rescued 53 people and two dogs on the American River,” said Sac Metro spokesman Dale Turner. Due to heavy winter snow, the American River is running unusually high and fast for this time of year.

Emergency crews are warning that the conditions are dangerous even for experienced swimmers. Sacramento City Fire officials confirm that the boat patrol program will be eliminated on July 16.

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River rescues continue on American

High, cold water on the American River brought several more rescues Wednesday, including one group of 20 rafters who had  to be rescued when their rafts foundered near Riverbend Park.

“We got hung up right in the middle between a really big current and I don’t know, but the raft popped and it flipped over,” Benjamin Gabriel of Lincoln said.

As fire rescue boats raced to pull people out, Gabriel said he was barely able to make out of the freezing, fast water.

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