Sheriff Margaret Mims Wednesday ordered most of the Fresno County portion of the Kings River closed for the Memorial Day weekend and indefinitely after that because of surging, ice-cold water roaring out of Pine Flat Dam.
The river will be off-limits below Pine Flat Dam. Whitewater rafting above Pine Flat Lake is unaffected.
Tulare County and Kings County have also shut down boating, rafting, swimming, canoeing and other activities on the water this year in the aftermath of a drenching winter that has turned last year’s meager stream into a raging river. Bone-chilling water with a temperature of 50 degrees Fahrenheit is flooding the Kings River channel at the rate of 8,361 cubic feet per second – about 3.7 million gallons per minute.
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“This is the highest I’ve seen this river in many, many years,” the sheriff said as she stood along the Kings near Piedra Road. She noted that Fresno County parks are not part of the closure and will remain open so that residents can view the fast-moving water over the holiday.
Mims noted that riverbanks have eroded due to the swiftness of the water, adding fallen trees and brush to the water. The vegetation acts as “strainers,” which can trap unwary swimmers and rafters, leading to hypothermia and drowning.
Persons in violation of the ban on river activity can face a fine of up to $225.
The Kings River above Pine Flat Dam remains open to rafters, according to the U.S. Forest Service.
This has been a particularly dangerous spring for those seeking to cool off in area rivers. Three people have died in the Tule River and two in the Kaweah River inside Sequoia National Park this year.
On Saturday afternoon, a valedictorian from Edison High School, Neng Thao, was with his family at the San Joaquin River in north Fresno, celebrating his older brother’s graduation from Fresno State earlier in the day, when he drowned.