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30-plus people rescued in American River in one day. Many rode on pool inflatables

Sacramento Metro Fire rescued at least 30 people during six trips in the American River on Saturday, including one rescue that involved 20 people, according to fire inspector Diana Schmidt.

What the rescuees all had in common: none of them rode in river-compliant rafts. Many rode in pool inflatables.

Schmidt said there were likely so many rescues – which occurred in the strip of the river that borders Rancho Cordova – due to a “Rafting Gone Wild” event. Schmidt also noted the water level in the river has dropped in recent days, exposing many branches that rafts can easily get snagged on.

The high number of people rescued does not appear to be unusual.

“This time of year, when its warm on the river, it’s usually pretty busy,” Schmidt said. The number of people rescued “was not outside the norm, but it was a fairly large volume.”

Six people rescued Saturday were involved in “critical” rescues, because they weren’t wearing life vests, Schmidt added. That means if they weren’t rescued, they would have likely gotten injured or worse. Ultimately, none of the people rescued Saturday received injuries serious enough to go to a hospital.

Among the six rescue trips, one involved a group of 20 people. Schmidt said a raft snagged on a branch and three of the four people in the raft fell in the water. Two passing rafts tried to help the people who fell in but ended up getting stuck as well.

Some people got to shore while some were still on the deflating raft. Metro Fire brought all 20 people involved in the incident to River Bend Park.

Schmidt recommends rafters to only ride river-compliant rafts, which are available to be rented near the river.

The rescue chief can’t recall an incident in which one of the rental rafts capsize, Schmidt said, as the rental rafts won’t deflate easily from protruding branches, unlike pool inflatables.

Schmidt also recommended people to hold on to cellphones when they raft, noting instances in which “people are struck on shore and yelling out for hope that a nearby resident will hear.”

She also emphasized the importance of life vests, saying that Metro Fire has found many life vests washed onto shore. Crews on the river estimate that around 90 percent of children wear vests; in contrast, 60 percent of adults wear life vests.

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Elaine Chen, from the University of Chicago, is a local news reporter for The Sacramento Bee. She grew up in the Bay Area and later in Beijing, China.
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