June 2, 2009 in City

Debris, current create treacherous spot on river

Stretch flows near Barker; elsewhere, unmanned raft leads to search
By The Spokesman-Review
 
COLIN MULVANY colinm@spokesman.com photo

A Spokane Fire Department rescuer scours the Spokane River after an empty raft was found Monday downstream of the Bowl and Pitcher. The rafter later turned up safe. colinm@spokesman.com
(Full-size photo)

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.”

The river between Harvard and Barker roads is dangerous because of fast-moving water and debris accumulating at the Barker Bridge construction site. Officials are asking boaters to stay off that portion of the river.

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 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 Sunday’s rescue, firefighters cut a hole in the temporary wood slats to pull the woman to safety, because a water rescue was deemed 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.

The busiest time may be 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. The owner of the raft was later found, when he showed up to work and called officials. He said his boat had flipped, and he was able to swim to shore.

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


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