Eagle River fire district urges safety for river users
EDWARDS — The Eagle River Fire Protection District enlisted its technical rescue experts last week to remove part of a tree that had fallen into the river just south of Minturn on U.S. Highway 24.
The tree, which had fallen across the river sometime during the winter, completely spanned the river and reached the edge of Highway 24. After extensive evaluation, the tree was determined to pose enough of a threat to public safety that fire district officials approached the U.S. Forest Service for permission to remove a portion of the tree to reduce the risk to the public while still maintaining the natural ecosystem and fish habitat.
“It’s unusual for the fire district to undertake a project such as this,” Eagle River Fire Protection District Chief Karl Bauer said. “We’re not in the business of maintaining the river, but this particular tree posed such a threat to the public that we felt it was in everyone’s best interest to mitigate the hazard.”
Crews used significant safety measures during the operation, including an upstream spotter and tethered downstream rescue swimmers with throw bags. Experts in sawyering and winch operations were used to ensure there were no injuries to firefighters and that no additional hazards were introduced into the downstream waterway. The operation took around two hours to complete.
The rivers and creeks throughout Eagle County will soon be reaching peak water flows. These high waters can be fast and furious with strong undertows and opportunities for even the most experienced river runners to find themselves in harm’s way. Remember, accidents can happen, regardless of your skill level and on any type of water, so Eagle River Fire Protection District recommends you follow these safety guidelines before heading out:
- Wear your life jacket and proper headgear. It’s always possible to capsize in any water condition.
- Assure that your watercraft was intended for white water travel and understand the capabilities and limitations of the raft, kayak, or other equipment you are using.
- Know the water conditions. Conditions can be very different from day to day and it’s important to know what to expect. If in doubt, get out and scout.
- Beware of Strainers. Strainers are fallen trees, bridge pilings, undercut rocks or anything else that allows the current to flow through it while holding you. Strainers are deadly.
- Carry identification that includes your name, phone number, pertinent medical information, and emergency contact information in a waterproof bag. You can also store your cell phone and camera in the bag. Equipment should be labeled with a name and phone number to make it easier to return lost or stolen equipment.
- Before you leave, make sure you know where you are going. It is also a good idea to tell a responsible person about your plans of where you will be and when you expect to return.
- If it is your first time on the water, take an on-water course or travel with an experienced person that has navigated that part of the river before. Avoid water conditions beyond your skill level.
- Check the weather forecast before you leave for your destination so you can pack the proper equipment. Dress appropriately for weather conditions. Carry extra clothes in a dry bag in case you flip and go for a swim. Hypothermia can be deadly.
- Never go boating or tubing while under the influence of alcohol or drugs. Make sure you bring drinking water and stay hydrated.
- Plan for emergencies and carry a basic first aid kit. Learn rescue skills necessary to assist others. If you lose equipment, call the non-emergency number for dispatch — 970-479-2200— with a detailed description of what equipment was lost and where it was last seen. This helps ensure emergency responders are only dispatched to true rescue situations.
At least one boulder will need to be blasted as part of the cleanup effort.