Officials warn of deadly Kern River conditions

The Kern County Sheriff's Office said it's expecting an increase this year in search-and-rescue calls, due in part to the high level of water in the raging Kern River.

"The last time we had this kind of water, I believe it was the summer of 2011," Sgt. Zach Bittle said. "Search-and-rescue was extremely busy that year, so we are looking to have another similar year."

Last year by this time, officials said they received about four calls. This year, they are already up to 35 search-and-rescue calls. Not all of the calls were related to the river, but the stormy weather has been a big factor.

"That presents a unique danger, because many people ... may have an expectation of what the river was like when they were here last year, but because the water level is so much higher this year, the river is going to be completely different than what they're used to," Bittle said.

Tuesday, search-and-rescue teams were looking for a woman who was possibly in the Kern River. Teams searched the area, but it was too dangerous for them to go into the water.

"The water in the river is running so fast, it's to the point that we can't even put personal into the water, it's just too dangerous," Sheriff's Office spokesman Ray Pruitt said.

Search-and-rescue teams said the snow runoff is largely causing the increase in water levels. County officials said even though the water looks nice, it can be deadly.

"You can't see what's underneath this water, you can't see the rocks and the obstructions in the water," Bittle said. "You have undertow and undercurrents that can pull you under."

The Sheriff's Office can't stop anyone from going into the river, but they want people to enjoy it safely.

County officials asked that people do not consume alcohol when swimming and always wear a life jacket.

"(The river) is here for everyone to enjoy," Bittle said. "We just want to make sure that we get the message out that when you do come to the river, you do so in a safe manner and responsibly."

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