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Warmer weather, snowmelt creating deadly water conditions in Placer County

"On average, we lose 3 to 4 people here at the confluence every year to drowning," said Sgt. Kevin Griffiths.

PLACER COUNTY, Calif. — With temperatures on the rise this week, many people are expected to head out to the rivers and waterways to cool off. 

However, Placer County officials are warning people about dangerous water conditions, and they're already predicting a bad scenario if people decide to get in the water right now.   

A combination of warmer temperatures and a historic snowfall is creating the perfect recipe for dangerous water situations.

"On average, we lose 3 to 4 people here at the confluence every year to drowning, and it's because people get in and they don't understand the area they're getting into. They're not protecting themselves," said Sgt. Kevin Griffiths with the Placer County Sheriff's Office. 

At the Auburn State Recreation Area, the American River confluence outside of Auburn is already moving fast, and it's only expected to pick up more speed and depth as more snow melts.

"That water is coming down all our rivers, all our creeks. Last week just three days ago, this river was flowing at 1,600 CFS. That's cubic feet per second. Today, it's over 2,600 cubic feet per second - a thousand cubic feet change within 3 days," said Griffiths.

Griffiths says the temperature of the American River confluence outside of Auburn recently reached 44 degrees. It's cold enough to cause hyperthermia in about 15 minutes.

"With the amount of rain and precipitation that we had this winter, it's created a lot of hazards that shown up that were not here last year. So the tree that's behind us is considered a strainer, which is essentially anything that water can move through and a person cannot," said Nick Salas, a captain with Cal Fire and the Placer County Fire Department. 

This week, Cal Fire is training its crews in classrooms and out in the water for water rescues. 

California State Parks also has lifeguards on vehicles and foot patrols.

"Downstream, the river widens out a little bit. It looks more peaceful and calm on the surface, and so we have to be diligent and take foot patrols downstream and make sure to let people know that the water is still moving very quickly," said Christian Bryan, a lifeguard with California State Parks. 

Officials say sometimes it can be too late for someone to be saved because of the difficulty in a swift water rescue. 

"Stay out for the next month. Couple of weeks, let's take a look at it and let us evaluate. We will come back and say, 'Hey look, we're getting back to the norms," said Griffiths. 

Officials don't want people to fear visiting all the rivers and waterways. They said people should never swim alone, should have a life jacket, and if you happen to get yourself caught, try to remain calm, stay in the same spot and have someone call 911.


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