Rising river washes away boats on the Columbia River

Two unmanned vessels rescued in past week on the Columbia River

Unsuspecting boats are being pulled into the waters of the Columbia River as the river level continues to rise following a spat of warm weather and heavy rainfall in the last few days.

Kootenay Boundary Regional Fire Rescue (KBRFR) responded to their second unmanned boat river rescue in the last week on the Columbia River just before 7 a.m. Sunday.

KBRFR Capt. Jason Milne said the rescue proved to just be a boat someone didn’t tie off very well further upstream. By the time river rescue firefighters caught up to the boat near Rock Island they knew it wasn’t a race to save a life, said Capt. Milne.

“Fortunately the owner of the boat responded to us when we were recovering the boat so we were able to downgrade it to boat recovery as opposed to river rescue,” he said.

With a high water advisory in place for the West Kootenay the waters of rivers like the Columbia are moving fast and strong.

Some of the boats people have docked along the river’s banks aren’t tied off very well, said Capt. Milne, and the river is “grabbing them from the shoreline.”

However, every call to the department on an unmanned boat has to be treated like a rescue call until they know otherwise, he said.

“We don’t know why there is no one in that boat,” Capt. Milne said. “If it is an un-witnessed call and people say they see a boat floating down the Columbia River we have to treat it as a rescue until we have more information.”

Three members were on the water for the Sunday call, the same amount responding early last week when a 9-1-1 call on a capsized boat brought the rescue team out.

Although river levels began to recede last weekend from their peak, the heat and the extra moisture combined with still significant snow pack for West Kootenay rivers — including the Columbia, Kootenay and Slocan — to again reach their peak of the snow melt freshet season.

The BC River Forecast Centre is still issuing a high stream flow advisory for the Kootenay River, which feeds into the Columbia River as it flows through Trail.

“During this period, rivers are full and have limited capacity to contain significant additional runoff from rapid snowmelt or heavy rainfall,” read the report.

A short-lived high pressure ridge brought warmer temperatures across the province on Friday, and then transitioned into a low pressure system that dumped heavy rain over the weekend—up to 50 millimetres in some areas.

As a result, river levels are expected to rise early this week in response to the rainfall.