FORT COLLINS, Colo. (CBS4) – As school wraps up for most students in northern Colorado, one of the most popular places to cool off during the hot days of summer is the iconic Cache la Poudre River. The river, which starts in the Rocky Mountains and rolls through to eastern Colorado, offers not only drinking water but opportunities for business and recreation as well.
However, in the days and immediate weeks following Memorial Day the river can be a dangerous place for people to recreate.
"People are anxious to get on the water, and I think sometimes they rush to get on the water without thinking through some important steps," said Cpt. Travis Garcia of Poudre Fire Authority.
In 2021 alone, PFA was dispatched more than 15 times to calls for swift water responses. Eight of those calls turned into rescue operations with a total of 20 different people being saved by firefighters.
"A lot of people can be taken by surprise by the power of the flows and the temperature of the water," Garcia told CBS4's Dillon Thomas.
Not only can the water be frigid due to snowmelt, but the river is also moving very quickly during peak runoff. Though the water may appear to be moving slowly at the surface, below the water is actually moving much more rapidly than the eye can typically tell.
Garcia said PFA often hears of issues with Coloradans not coming prepared for the water and the terrain involved with the river.
"We see people use cheap inflatables that maybe they get at the supermarket, and they find themselves in trouble quickly," Garcia said.
Those floating the river are encouraged to either rent or buy stronger tubes for the floating activities, as rocks under the water can easily tear holes in the rubber.
Garcia said often times people getting in the river also overestimate their abilities to navigate adversity in waters that are very cold.
"You may think you are a strong swimmer until you are in the water, and it is ice cold and you lose functionality of your body," Garcia said.
"(The river is) really cold and really fast," said Madelena Fetter, a Fort Collins resident.
Fetter, and her family, were at a whitewater park in Fort Collins on Memorial Day enjoying time together in the water. Fetter, who works with a local outdoor entertainment company, was riding a board through the rapids while also wearing a helmet and water suit.
"The river is a powerful and dangerous force, but it can be a lot of fun if you know what you are doing and you take the correct safety precautions," Fetter said.
Another issue causing potential harm to those on the river is a lasting effect of the historic Cameron Peak Fire. In 2020 the Cameron Peak Fire burned more acres than any other fire in Colorado history at more than 209,000.
In the years to follow debris, ash and other items have been seen slowly making their way down the river. Even remnants of homes that collapsed into the river as a result of the burn scar and flash flooding are still floating down into Fort Collins via the Poudre River.
"There are a lot of things in the river that can get you in trouble. We like people to be educated on those things so they can enjoy their time and also be very safe," Garcia said.
"This is great place to hang out with your family if you know what you are doing and you have the correct safety equipment," Fetter said.
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