BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KGET) — The Kern County Sheriff’s Office updated the sign at the mouth of the canyon Friday to reflect the number of lives lost in the Kern River.
From 1968 to 2021, 317 lives were lost in the so-called “Killer Kern.” Friday’s updated tally is up to 325, an additional eight lives lost in 2022, according to KCSO search and rescue sergeant Joe Saldaña.
“Due to the high CFS this year, it’s recommended to stay out completely. This is the highest I’ve seen it [river water levels] and I’ve lived here all my life,” the sergeant said.
Officials do not anticipate to close the river anytime soon. Doing so would require approval from Bakersfield Board of Supervisors along with legislature, according to Saldaña.
In a joint effort with the Kern County Fire Department, search and rescue units will be assigned staging points in Hart Park, Kern River and in Kernville. Search and rescue teams have also been conducting weekly exercises to find access points and will also be patrolling up and down the river to be readily accessible in the event of a call out this Memorial Day Weekend.
Although several notices warning visitors to not jump into the Kern River have been posted, Saldaña said many people rarely take the advice.
When rescue workers spot people getting into the river, KCSO will rely on preventative search and rescue measures. “We will advise them of the dangers of the river, how many lives this river has claimed. Letting them know it’s extremely dangerous, even though there are some areas that look like it is smooth off the top and it is not,” Saldaña said.
So far this year, two swimmer’s bodies have yet to be recovered.
The Kern County Fire Department conducted search and rescue drills Friday in Yokuts Park. A helicopter rescue exercise was scheduled but was ultimately cancelled due to nearby powerlines. Another factor that can delay precious rescue response times along the river.