June 1, 2009 in City, Idaho

Bridge construction increases river danger

By The Spokesman-Review
Colin Mulvany photo

A member of the Spokane Fire Department’s water rescue team searches the Spokane River for signs of a missing kayaker whose overturned kayak was found by a Riverside State Park ranger Monday, June 1, 2009. Fire Department personnel combed the shoreline from the Bowl and Pitcher to the Seven Mile Bridge without finding anyone.
(Full-size photo)

Spokane River danger The river between Harvard and Barker roads is extremely dangerous due to fast-moving water and debris accumulating at the Barker bridge construction site. Officials are asking boaters to stay off that portion of the river.

In the aftermath of a weekend water-rescue on the Spokane River at the Barker Road bridge, fire crews spent Monday using the dangerous spot as training ground.

“It’s like a big spaghetti strainer down there,” full of logs and other debris, said Spokane Fire Department Battalion Chief Craig Cornelius. “We’re just very, very lucky that nobody has died in that part of the river yet.”

On Sunday, one woman was rescued by Spokane Valley firefighters after becoming wedged in the debris while attempting to float under the bridge in her raft.

The bridge is under construction, and several bright-orange signs warn boaters to take out well before the bridge. But some of the signs are confusing, the Spokane County Sheriff’s Office said, and the water is moving too swiftly.

“When the sign says ‘get out’ you’ve passed the point of no return,” said Spokane Valley Fire Department Battalion Chief Ken Capal.

The sheriff is asking the construction company to consider different signs, and asking boaters to stay away.

In the case of Sunday’s rescue, firefighters had to cut a hole in the temporary wood slats to pull the woman to safety, because a water rescue was too dangerous.

“When the rescuers aren’t willing to go down there, you know it’s bad,” Capal said.

The city and county don’t require victims to repay the costs of a rescue, but the construction company could ask the woman to pay for the damage to the bridge, sheriff’s officials said.

On Monday, Valley firefighters invited Spokane’s Swift Water Rescue Team to train at the dangerous intersection. The team will be training on the river for the next four weeks.

According to fire department statistics, the busiest time is yet to come. Six water-rescue incidents have been reported so far this year. During this same time last year, there were seven. But by the end of June last year there had been 16 water rescues.

On Monday, city firefighters responded when an unmanned raft was spotted stuck in the river downstream from the Bowl and Pitcher in Riverside State Park. Nobody was found, fire officials said.

“The water is at its highest level,” Cornelius said. “Anybody without extensive training…should not be on the water.”

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