The Kern River is more dangerous than normal — the water levels are higher from rain and snow melting and flowing into the river, and the water is moving fast.
Kern County faced cooler-than-normal temperatures and lots of rain this spring. When the county reached its first triple-digit days in June, the heat came with great strength — and the river's power came along with it.
With those conditions, there is a higher potential for lives to be lost, said Kern County Sheriff's Office Sgt. Steve Williams at a press conference Thursday morning. KCSO held the conference near the mouth of the Kern River Canyon to discuss the dangers of getting in the Kern River after four people — including an 11-year-old girl — went missing in Kern County in June and are presumed drowned. Three went missing in the Kern River and there was one drowning in Isabella Lake.
Since 2000, 96 people have died in the Kern River in Kern County. KCSO said 52 were from the local area, while 39 were from out of town. A man's body was recovered from the river Tuesday, about half a mile downriver from Keysville. His identity has not yet been released.
Williams expressed the dangers of even being around the river in certain places, as the 11-year-old girl who went missing wasn't even swimming — she fell into the river and went missing, Williams said.
Lots of smooth granite lay in and around the river, which can lead to people slipping and falling into the water, said Bakersfield Search and Rescue Capt. Aaron Lynam. He urged anyone around the Kern River to keep an eye on everyone swimming or walking around the water.
"We want to make sure this doesn't happen to anyone else," said Kern Valley Search and Rescue Capt. Brian Baskin, adding that Kern Valley Search and Rescue continues to be in, on or over the water, looking for those who have disappeared.
Baskin urged anyone who is swimming in the river to wear a life jacket and to behave safely around the river, stressing that "it really comes down to the individual" and the choices they make to ensure their safety.
When asked about the efficiency of loaner life vests and whether having life vests at popular swimming locations around the river would save lives, Williams said there wasn't enough data to substantiate one way or the other.
"It's well-intended, and we hope that it has a positive effect," Williams said.
Despite the major dangers that come with the quick current and high water levels, there are some safe areas in the river, but that doesn't imply caution isn't still needed, Williams said.
"This river is beautiful, it can be enjoyable, but it can be very dangerous," Williams said.