Be wary on river

Okotoks: Debris makes river unsafe

By: Roxanne Blackwell

  |  Posted: Wednesday, Jul 30, 2014 10:53 am

Jordan Verlage/OWW

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The Sheep River may look inviting this week as temperatures soar, but the Okotoks Fire Department is warning people to avoid the water as it’s too unpredictable to navigate safely.

Fire Chief Ken Thevenot said each year as the snow melts the river looks different than it did the year before, but with the flooding pushing all sorts of debris down the water last summer, it’s a different animal altogether.

“We all saw the pictures of the rivers moving houses, but how large those trees were and to have them moved every which direction,” Thevenot said. “The force of that river is not something to take lightly that's for sure.”

While unpredictable depths and currents are one factor, Thevenot said it’s common to see rafters run into problems with the trees and branches that are still underwater.

“Typically people are caught up on those trees or that’s where their watercraft may have been punctured or may have bumped off their course, that's where we usually have to give them a hand,” Thevenot said. “One example, the tree was below the water line and then when this swimmer ran into some problems they got caught up on that one and we couldn't even see what they were caught up on.”

Okotoks resident Millie Olshaski and her daughter stopped at the riverbank on July 28 during a walk to cool their toes off. She said while they have swam in the river in the past, they tend to avoid the area. Olshaski said she doesn’t doubt that the water can be hazardous, especially when people don’t take safety precautions while out on the water.

“If they don’t have lifejackets on, and they’re younger people or they’re drinking, I think you’re crazy,” she said. “Just what I’ve seen over the last few days with the heat, especially the teens they’ve got that infallible idea that nothing’s going to happen to them.”

Thevenot said when people do get into trouble and need to be rescued, it puts the firefighters at risk as well.

“If we go down there we have special suits, we have specialized training that we do, ropes and knots, lifejackets on top of our suits, so we go to this extreme if we have to go out there, and we would look at it and review the area first to see where the hazards are to see if we can pin point any hazards,” he said. “As nice as it would be to go there, and I would be one of them going, just with the uncertainties with the way it is now it just really makes us uncomfortable that people would attempt to go down there.”

While right now the Fire Department isn’t enforcing a ban on the river, they want people to be aware of the danger.

“It's just a recommendation right now, we're just trying to give people the heads up that it is our recommendation that you stay away,” he said. “You're taking a risk in my opinion if you go down there.”

And for those who think they know how to navigate the waters, Thevenot said to keep in mind the unpredictability of the river.

“I'm a good swimmer too, and I’ve seen lots of good swimmers over the years,” he said. “They said the Titanic wasn't supposed to sink either, so people have to be really cautious and know what’s out there.”


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