Seven People Rescued After Getting Stranded on Oregon River Due to 2020 Wildfire Damage

by Jennifer Shea

Seven people were pulled out of an Oregon river on Sunday. They had gotten stranded there in an area that had been scorched by wildfires.

A group of five rafters who were not wearing life jackets got stuck in the Santiam River, east of Marion County’s Niagra Park. When their rafts reached the rapids in the river, they got stranded.

Two first responders who arrived on the scene also became stranded while trying to help the rafters, according to People.

Rescuers Flocked to Oregon River

Around 3 p.m. on Sunday, authorities said, they got a 9-1-1 call about the group that was stuck in the river. The caller notified police that the rafters had no life jackets.

“Two of the rafters held onto a burnt log while three others were on a rock in the river,” the Marion County Sheriff’s Office said in a Facebook post that includes dramatic photographs. “None of them had required personal flotation devices with them.”

The sheriff’s office explained that the area was difficult for rescuers to access. There is both steep terrain and damage from the 2020 wildfires there.

Rescuers’ first step upon arriving on the scene was to get life jackets to each of the stranded rafters. They managed to do that. But in the process, the raft carrying one rescue crew flipped over, stranding two first responders along with the rafters.

At that point, more agencies were enlisted in the effort. A helicopter from the Oregon Army National Guard showed up. Authorities closed Highway 22 to allow access for emergency vehicles. In addition to the Salem Fire Department, who were first on the scene, the Clackamas Fire District, Tualatin Valley Fire and Rescue and the Oregon State Police also arrived to help.

No Serious Injuries, But It Was a Close Call

Water rescue teams on the ground managed to pull one rafter out of the Oregon river. The rest of the stranded people had to be airlifted out by the Oregon Army National Guard.

All told, the rescuers had to be resourceful, using a variety of techniques – swift water rescue, rescue swimmers, rope rescue and air support – to bring everyone to safety.

One rafter went to a local hospital for evaluation. But luckily, none of those stranded sustained serious injuries.

“This event is a strong reminder that with the weather heating up, the heavy flow of the water, and the waters being cold, this is a dangerous time,” the sheriff’s office posted. “Please be mindful and use extreme caution when swimming or floating on the river.”

And don’t forget to bring life jackets, they added.