FRESNO, California (KSEE) – After 38-year-old Fannie Chindapheth reportedly fell into a Fresno canal on Wednesday afternoon, the Fresno Fire Department is highlighting the dangers to the public.
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“Even the most expert swimmer is going to have a very difficult time in these conditions. These waters can move five, six, seven, eight mph which doesn’t sound like a lot but when you’re in the water and being swept away it’s incredible how fast that is,” said Shane Brown, the public information officer with the Fresno Fire Department.
Brown said they frequently get calls throughout the summer and added that canals aren’t designed for people to jump in and cool off.
“We’re in a severe drought so the water levels in those reservoirs are lower. So the flows may not be as strong as they were in the past but they’re still too strong for even the best of the human swimmer. You can’t compete with these,” he said. “And specifically when you have obstacles like what we see behind us, a low head dam where water travels from a high point to a low point, it creates a very turbulent heavy energy, a lot of power in that area that makes it almost impossible for a swimmer to exit it.”
Brown said fire rescue teams searched the waters for Chindapheth on Wednesday for more than two hours before calling the search off.
As it gets hotter, families throughout the Valley are looking to cool off including in lakes or rivers, and summer is one of the busiest seasons for water rescue teams.
Brown said prevention is the best plan, but if someone falls into the water, the quicker someone else calls 911 the better.
He added that the most accurate information can make a significant difference and that after a person is considered submerged, the first hour becomes critical.
“A person has a one-hour window of drowning to be a viable patient, meaning if we were to locate somebody in 20 minutes from the time they submerged, we are going to aggressively try to rescue that person,” Brown said. “Beyond that one-hour window, it’s virtually a nonexistent chance of survivability.”
PG&E in a news release said they’re releasing high water flows on the San Joaquin River below the Kerckhoff Dam on June 6, advising the public to avoid entering the water at that time.
“They have signs posted, they have alarms that should sound as the water is released, but once you hear those horns, once you are in that area, you need to exit and get out of there as quickly as possible,” Brown said. “And that doesn’t mean just a few feet from the river’s edge, it means get away from that area because when that water comes down, it doesn’t care what’s in its path.”
Brown said crews have a four-hour window to continue the search tomorrow morning.