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Deadly rivers: Park rangers warn swimmers [Video]

July 20, 2011 |  3:15 pm

Scorching temperatures and icy-cold rivers make Sequoia, Kings Canyon and Yosemite national parks popular summer retreats. But rangers are warning visitors that they need to be especially careful this year.

The Kaweah, Merced, Kern, Lemoore, and Tuolomne rivers in Central California are swollen with water rushing from the Sierra Nevada's melting snowpack. Not only did the mountains experience twice the typical snowfall last winter, but springtime also was colder than usual. The thaw came late, meaning freezing river temperatures and high water levels well into the summer.

“The danger is the 100-degree weather entices people into the river,” said Dana Dierkes, Sequoia-Kings Canyon spokeswoman.

Warning signs dot the park, with “Deadly River” in bold lettering. Rangers and the volunteer group River Rovers comb the shorelines, reminding visitors that this is not the same river they’ve swam in the past.

“The water looks calm on top, but underneath are strong currents,” said Karl Pearson, a Sequoia ranger. “You can be pulled under in a second.”

Currents are flowing as fast as 3,000 cubic feet per second, three times what rangers consider safe for swimming. 

Three Yosemite hikers were presumed dead Wednesday after they climbed over a barricade at the top of the park's Vernal Falls and were swept over the side.

In the last two months at least nine drownings have been reported on Central California rivers, including one Los Angeles man on July 3. The 45-year-old man was drifting down the Kaweah River in Sequoia National Park in an inner-tube when the current pulled him under.

Park officials said they did not expect river conditions to normalize until September. Until then, Diereks said, “Don’t go in the river. It’s just not safe.”


Chain-reaction rescue killed three at Yosemite

Los Angeles man drowns in Sequoia National Park

Thick snowpack holds water — and potential peril

Central Valley rivers are flowing stronger, faster, more fatally

-- Ashlie Rodriguez

Video: Ashlie Rodriguez