A weekend report that came in as a possible drowning – but turned out to be a man swimming in the Stanislaus River near the McHenry Avenue bridge – has prompted a word of caution from local fire officials.
Escalon Fire Department crews responded to the call shortly after 5:30 p.m. Saturday, April 6.
Fire Chief Rick Mello said though the call was not a drowning, the river continues to run high, fast and cold, and should not be taken lightly.
“We’ve got high river flows, we’re looking at the start to fire season, there’s a whole boondoggle of items,” Mello said. “Right now the rivers are running high and they are very cold, they’re only going to get colder when we get the snow runoff.”
As temperatures warm up, Mello said the thought of taking a quick dip in the river may seem like a good idea, but there is inherent danger right now. Especially, he said, when many people utilize flotation devices that are more suitable to backyard pools.
“If you use it in the pool, don’t use it in the river,” he said. “People just get in the river and they are not prepared for it.”
The chief added that nearby Ripon also sees an increase in calls along the river in spring and early summer, as does neighboring Oakdale, which has already had one drowning the spring. One of the misconceptions, Mello said, is that some people approach the river as a “ride at Disneyland” and think they will be able to just circle back to their starting point. In most cases, that doesn’t happen and he said they can become disoriented, lost and find themselves in trouble.
Then, it’s often a large scale response from fire departments, the sheriff’s department, and swift water rescue teams.
“Right now it’s just a huge safety risk,” Mello said.
Add to that the possibility of having some alcohol along on a river float and the problem is exacerbated.
It’s best to wait until the flow is reduced and the river temperatures are warmer to venture in to the Stanislaus, he said.
Meanwhile, the department is starting to gear up for its annual fire season, looking to begin the weed abatement program in early May.
“There are areas that are fire hazards and we will start to identify those locations,” Mello said of areas that are overgrown with weeds and tall grass, a potentially dangerous and flammable situation come warm weather.
With heavy rain this winter the area will likely see major vegetation growth this spring and there will need to be a concerted weed abatement effort to help curtail the hazards, Mello noted.