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Summer’s End
Wildfire Season, River Still Cause For Concern
It was a scaled down crowd that ventured out to the Stanislaus River at Jacob Myers Park on Monday, Sept. 4; the Labor Day holiday signaling the unofficial end of summer. Flows were down and people were enjoying the opportunity to splash around in the water during the afternoon. Marg Jackson/The Times

Labor Day weekend saw some people visiting area waterways and though it brought the unofficial end of summer, local fire officials are still on the lookout for wildfires and poised for the possibility of more river rescues.

“I don’t know that it ever stops in California,” Escalon Fire Chief Rick Mello said of fire season, which now seems to be in effect all year long. “We are certainly holding our breath to get out of fire season and get to rain.”

The summer months, however, were relatively uneventful in terms of major fires in the area. A July 3 multi-alarm fire that burned on both sides of the Stanislaus River near McHenry Recreation Area was the largest that Escalon dealt with during the peak summer season.

“That was 25 acres on our side and two acres on the Stanislaus County side of the river,” Mello noted. “Other than that, we have had some smaller acreage fires here and there, but nothing large like that.”

What proved to be more of an issue this year, the chief added, was the number of river rescues that the department went out on during the last few months.

“I think, at one point, around the Fourth of July, we had put the boat in the water nine times, which is far more than a typical season, much less in that short of a time,” Mello said.

And while slightly cooler weather may have kept the Labor Day crowd numbers down, the department is still prepared.

“I still go out there and drive through during the week, check both parks and see what is going on,” Mello said of routine checks of Jacob Myers Park, off Santa Fe and McHenry Recreation Area, off River Road.

Both are in Escalon’s jurisdiction; Jacob Myers is actually closer to Riverbank but the entrance to the park is on the San Joaquin County side of the bridge over the Stanislaus River, and both departments routinely respond to calls there.

Mello said flows on the river “are typically reduced” for holiday weekends and it seems as though that was the cause for the long Labor Day holiday period, while there is also some adjustment made in the flows for salmon.

He said the return of students to school has also cut down on the number of people out and about on the river regularly, with the bulk of recreational use now on the weekend.

The chief said the department will remain on alert, both for river issues and any potential weather changes that could heighten the wildfire risk in the area.

“We like to see what the water levels are like, what the crowds are like,” the chief added of keeping a close eye on the river. “There are still people out there who are not thinking it through for the flows; they are often out there in little inflatables made for the swimming pool, not the river.”

He also said many times, when emergency responders are notified of a missing person on the river, they often have floated downstream and either gotten out at a location further along than they intended or have been picked up by rescue crews in a different fire district.

“That’s an all-too common occurrence,” the chief said.