Family’s raft trip down canal saved by Weimar man

Mistake highlights need to know waterways before diving in
By: Jenifer Gee Journal News Editor
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A family’s mistaken trip down a Weimar canal was saved thanks to the help of a local man who answered a cry for help. Weimar resident Phil Barker was in his home garage Thursday evening when he heard someone yelling. “I heard someone screaming, ‘Help!’” Barker recalled. “I walked outside and I looked down there and I could see a raft and I could hear someone screaming while I ran down there.” Barker’s Peaceful Valley Road home is situated across the street from the Bear River Canal in Weimar. He said he could see people clinging to the bar screen in the canal. He grabbed his bolt cutters and opened up the gate restricting access to the canal. Barker said he then helped a father pull up three children who were clinging to the bar screen, also known as a strainer, in the canal. He said the group consisted of two fathers and five children. The children included two 5-year-old boys, a 7-year-old boy, a 9-year-old girl, and a 13-year-old boy, Barker said. Barker said when he arrived the two youngest children were standing on the other side of the canal next to one of the rafts. However, the remaining three children were clinging to the strainer and one of the father’s had jumped into the canal to try and help them. “He was getting them to me and I was grabbing their hands to get them out,” Barker said. Barker said that once everyone was safe the two men called their wives to come pick them up. Barker said he helped give directions and the family eventually left and returned to their Bay Area home. Barker said he did not exchange names or phone numbers with the family. He said the family told him they were searching for the Bear River when they saw the canal. “They told me they thought they were in the Bear River and I told them they were about a quarter-mile off,” Barker said. Two fire engines from the Placer Hills Fire District responded to the scene after receiving a 911 call from someone spotting the rafters in the canal. Capt. Matt McCarthy said no rescue was needed when emergency personnel arrived. He added that there were no injuries. McCarthy said the family also told firefighters they thought they were in the river. “They said they believed the canal was the Bear River that led into Lake Combie,” McCarthy said. McCarthy said the area where the family was stuck can be dangerous, especially when the water is high and flowing fast like it was Thursday. “(The flow) will push you against the strainer and not allow you to move,” McCarthy said. He said any water recreationist should research public access sites to rivers before heading outdoors. McCarthy also advised avoiding getting into waterways where you have to walk through a gated or fenced area or private property. “Any river should have a public access for it,” McCarthy said. “If people are visiting from outside the area, they should do research first to find public access sites for our waterways and the take-out spots.” The canal falls under Pacific Gas and Electric Co.’s jurisdiction. On Wednesday, spokesman Brian Swanson said the company is working to repair the broken lock. He said that canals are marked with several signs warning people to stay out and are also lined with concrete to help differentiate them from a river. Swanson stressed that research is a key part of staying safe in the water. “Really the message here is whether it’s a canal or a river, if people are not familiar with the water, they should stay out because they’re really risking their lives,” Swanson said. Reach Jenifer Gee at