Edmonton’s acting fire chief issues warning after 3 recent rescues on North Saskatchewan River

A photo of the North Saskatchewan River in Edmonton on April 9, 2020. Morris Gamblin/ Global News

Three river rescues in a span of two days has spurred Edmonton’s acting fire chief to issue a warning about the danger posed by the North Saskatchewan River at this time of year.

“The snow and ice that’s built up on top of it is probably the most deceptive part of what’s going on,” Edmonton Fire Rescue Services’ Bradley Hoekstra told Global News on Thursday. “Especially at this time of year with thaw and breakup that’s occurring throughout our region.

“The level and thickness of that ice is unknown at any given time which creates the biggest hazard.”

READ MORE: 2020 spring weather forecast: Warmer-than-normal patterns for much of Canada

Since the start of 2020, Hoekstra said his fire department has responded to 18 river rescues in the city. He noted that the North Saskatchewan River has an extremely fast-moving current which poses a significant hazard to people and pets.

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“It is, quite honestly, probably one of the most dangerous… events that we respond to simply because of the uncertainty and hazards of that river,” he said.

Hoekstra said the most common scenario that requires firefighters to respond to a river rescue is someone’s dog running onto the river and their owner running after their pet to retrieve it.

Watch below: Some Global News videos about river rescues.

Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo preparing for river breakup

In northern Alberta, emergency management teams are preparing for this spring’s river breakup.

On Thursday, the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo issued a news release to say its planning for the annual breakup is underway even as emergency officials also focus on the COVID-19 crisis.

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“Each year, the ice in the Athabasca and Clearwater Rivers breaks up, jams and rises, creating a flood hazard around Fort McMurray’s lower townsite and waterways,” municipal officials said.

“Though the river may appear to be free of ice, river breakup will not be officially declared until the threat of flooding from ice jams further downriver is no longer present.”

Officials are asking Fort McMurray residents to have 72-hour emergency kits prepared and to plan an evacuation route in the event the lower townsite floods.

“We encourage residents to educate themselves on river breakup in the region,” said Chris Graham, assistant deputy chief of emergency management at the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo.

“Emergency preparedness is important during river breakup and there are small steps we all can take to be prepared.”

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