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Nevada County rescue crews warn of cold, fast rivers after heat wave sparked rapid snow melt

Rescue crews warn of dangerous California river waters after heat waves sparks rapid snow melt
Rescue crews warn of dangerous California river waters after heat waves sparks rapid snow melt 02:24

NEVADA COUNTY – Following a tripled-digit heat wave this week, Nevada County officials warn that snow is rapidly melting into area rivers, causing them to run much faster and colder than people might expect. 

With many itching to hit the water this weekend, they hope people will choose area lakes and avoid the rivers altogether. 

"The concern right now is temperatures are rising, schools are getting out, we have graduations and summertime activities of going to the river. The water is still very fast and very cold," said Phillip Nunnink, battalion chief for the Nevada County Consolidated Fire Department. 

The South Yuba River, a popular spot to cool off and swim, is no exception. Several in the river Friday told CBS13 the water was cold and moving them around quite a bit. 

"You definitely want to stay as close as you can to the shore and not get swept away because once you do it's bad news," said Joel Berringer, who visits the spot weekly. 

He says he can feel the difference in the water. 

"It's dangerous for people who want to get in the water more than just here at the edge," said Berringer. 

One couple in town from San Francisco to enjoy their weekend at the South Yuba River noticed how fast it was moving. 

"It looks great but it does look rough. I'm going to err on the side of being aware of my surroundings and paying attention to the water," said Zach Rudolph. 

"I'll probably just put my feet in and stay near the edge," added Laura Mango. 

Nevada County fire rescue crews have been taking advantage of the early summer to train for river water rescues. 

"We kind of have a short window where we can't practice at normal summer flows because it's not realistic and we can't practice when the water is extremely fast and that's where we are at this season," said Nunnink.  

They practice getting to people who are stuck by stretching tension lines across the river and even practice rescue missions from the sky via helicopter. 

"What we see a lot in our rivers is foot entrapment where someone is going across the river and they get caught up. So we practice keeping their airway above the water and disentangling their feet from the rocks," said Nunnink. 

Last month, a swimmer died in Auburn after being pulled from the American River. 

"It's very fast, very strong. If someone were to jump in not realizing it would be very easy for someone to get hurt," said Cal Russell, visiting the American River. 

From the American to the Sacramento to the South Yuba, rescuers say it's best to stay clear of the rivers, not just to protect your life, but theirs too. 

"The river is dangerous so it can get the public but it can also get us. So we train a lot for self-rescue. What you don't see when we do a drill like that is there are folks downstream there to help rescue us should one of us get swept downstream," said Nunnink.  

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