Nine rafters without a guide rescued from Stanislaus River

Firefighters pull nine people from the cold, fast-moving Stanislaus River on Sunday (July 2, 2017) east of Oakdale.
Firefighters pull nine people from the cold, fast-moving Stanislaus River on Sunday (July 2, 2017) east of Oakdale.

Firefighters rescued nine people Sunday after their raft flipped, tossing them all into the cold and fast-moving water of the Stanislaus River.

The nine people from the Pleasanton area had rented a raft without a tour guide, a practice rafting companies had stopped earlier this year. A wet and snowy winter has swelled rivers in the San Joaquin Valley and had made it too dangerous to float down the river without a qualified rafting guide.

Some of the rafting companies operating along the Stanislaus River from Knights Ferry to Oakdale started renting out rafts without guides on Staurday, said Battalion Chief Eric DeHart of the Stanislaus Consolidated Fire Protection District.

DeHart said it took two boats from the Fire Protection District to pull out the nine people from the river about noon Sunday. He said the nine rafters did not appear to be seriously injured, and they all declined medical treatment at the scene.

The river this weekend was moving slower and at a lower level than it was about a month ago. “It’s still fast enough that you need to respect it,” DeHart said.

He urged those without experience maneuvering a raft down the river to get a guide.

“You just have to be careful,” DeHart said about rafting down the river. “You really have to know what you’re doing.”

The nine people rescued on Sunday all were wearing life vests, which will keep your head above water. But the river’s icy temperature and debris beneath the surface can make it extremely difficult for people to try to swim to shore or wait for rescuers.

Firefighters were forced to leave behind the flipped raft on Sunday, since it was wedged under tree branches and other debris along the river. “Now, it becomes another hazard,” DeHart said.

Along with other abandoned rafts, the firefighters on Sunday also encountered abandoned ice chests and rafting equipment along the river. DeHart said those all become hazards to other rafters as they try to float down the river.

There was a lot of traffic on the river over the weekend, and the Stanislaus Consolidated Fire Protection District expects to see more of the same on Monday and Tuesday as rafters flock to the area for the Fourth of July holiday.

Rosalio Ahumada: 209-578-2394