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Four escape injury in close calls

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Over the July 4 holiday, several incidents occurring on area rivers provided stark reminders that water levels remain at above-average flow levels.

The first incident occurred on July 4 when two individuals hit a downed tree at approximately 5:46 p.m. while rafting on the North Fork of the Gunnison River near 3200 Road. They were transported back to their vehicle by the Hotchkiss Fire Department.

USGS reported discharge at that time was 1,980 cfs.

The second incident occurred at 5:16 p.m. Saturday, July 6 on the North Fork of the Gunnison River near Somerset. Delta and Gunnison County sheriff's offices, the Paonia Volunteer Fire Department, Paonia Police Department and North Fork Ambulance responded.

The individuals were canoeing when one fell out. USGS reported discharge at that time was 1,750 cfs.

No indication was given as to why the man fell out. The two continued their trip down the river.

On Sunday, July 7, the Delta County Sheriff's Office received a report at 7:38 p.m. that a man had fallen off his raft into the Gunnison River near the 2200 Road bridge at Austin and had not resurfaced.

Shortly after, and before the deputy could arrive on the scene, the victim's brother reported to dispatch that he and his girlfriend found his brother walking on the road.

Once on the scene a deputy determined alcohol was involved for all three persons.

Dispatch called the girlfriend and brothers' parents to give them rides home. USGS reported discharge at the time of the incident was 3,430 cfs.

Delta County emergency management coordiantor Kris Stewart reminds citizens to be extra cautious when making trips down the rivers. Flow is still high, and waters are fast-moving. The Gunnison River will be rising again as water is released to keep Blue Mesa Reservoir from spilling.

Stewart recommends those planning to raft, canoe or kayak area rivers hire a licensed guide service or go with experienced guides. Without proper equipment or experience a fun river ride can turn deadly.

Paonia resident and seasoned boater Bill Brunner witnessed the incident at Somerset. He urges extreme caution in areas like the White Buffalo Dam about a mile upstream from Black Bridge Winery, where numerous rescues and near drownings have occurred. As flows drop, said Brunner, concrete, re-bar, fence posts and other jagged items surface.

"Enjoy the water, but have respect," said Brunner. River runners should know what's ahead regardless of the section they're running, seek experienced advice on runs and conditions, and dress for the cold water, not the hot sunshine.

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