First responders urge caution along American River after busy week

Local News

AUBURN, Calif. (KTXL) — There were five river rescues in the span of five days at the confluence of the Middle and North forks of the American River in the Auburn Ravine. 

It’s one of the deadliest stretches of waterway in the country but last week was still an eye-opener for first responders.    

“The water was really good, it was cold but it was hot out, so it was refreshing,” said swimmer Jiana Bibbee.

Thus the popularity at the spot where the Middle and North forks of the American River meet, just off Highway 49 outside Auburn.

Summertime flows are well below the spring runoff when the rivers rage with snowmelt. But what fools people are the daily dam releases in the afternoon when the flows of the Middle Fork can quadruple.

“And that water is cold because it comes out of the bottom of a dam, so it catches a lot of people by surprise,” said Auburn Sector State Parks Superintendent Mike Howard.

Beginning last Thursday there were five river rescues on successive days. Two swimmers were stranded on a rock on Saturday and had to be airlifted out. Both were hospitalized.

Bystanders pulled one person from the bottom of the river on Sunday and used CPR to revive him.

Another swimmer died on Monday when similar CPR efforts failed.

Despite the danger, swimmers and sunbathers were out in force Friday. Many frolicked in the water without life vests, even though free loaners were available.

Parks officials say too many people are fighting the current and wading across the rivers.

“People underestimate the force of the water, especially cold water, and get in over their head quickly,” Howard told FOX40.

State Parks officials say more and more new people move into the area each year — people who are simply not aware of the dangers the rivers present.

“The current was really strong and we kind of got sucked away a little bit,” said swimmer Lili Mortensen.

It was just the second time for the group of swimmers, who were told by others about the afternoon releases.

“I mean it’s scary and I’m glad somebody warned us before anything bad could happen,” Mortensen.

“I really didn’t understand how strong the rapid was until I got here,” said Emily Mortensen.

The fear is that others who will flock to the popular spot during the warm weekend will find out too late.

Half a dozen state and local agencies responded to last week’s rescues. A huge commitment of resources and at times, some did not get to the scene in time. State Parks officials’ prevention measures like exercising caution and using life jackets are a better way to go.

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