Fire Department Urges Residents to ‘Refrain from Recreating on the Yellowstone’
The Billings Fire Department is alerting residents of a potentially deadly situation for those who regularly enjoy areas along the Yellowstone River.
According to the BFD press release, engineers are concerned that recent heavy rainfall and snowmelt are creating the "perfect recipe for a fast, high-flowing Yellowstone River."
In the first week of May, river flow on the Yellowstone was at 3,000 cubic feet per second and during the morning of June 8, the rate had increased to 34,000 cubic feet per second.
At that rate, there’s a lot of force behind that river, and the river itself is swollen beyond its normal banks, and so it’s starting to pick up debris and take things into the current with it. -Billings Fire Department Engineer Mark Rickbeil.
The Interstate 90 Yellowstone River project area along the river is "the fire department's biggest concern," according to the press release. Temporary pillars and bridges in the area are creating a narrow path for river debris to pass through and "can be a threat to anyone floating the river," according to the Billings Fire Department.
BFD Engineer Mark Rickbeil said there is "a much lower clearance now and if we see the river rise because of warming temperatures or more snow melt or heavy rainfall, the ability to pass under that bridge becomes more difficult."
With warmer temperatures expected in Billings this weekend, the Billings Fire Department is concerned residents will use the river to cool off.
But with current river temperatures still hovering around 50 degrees, BFD Engineer Rickbeil says that within 15 minutes you can "start to lose dexterity within your extremities and so your ability to grasp onto an object to help save you, whether it be rescue throw rope that we deploy or even a limb that you’re trying to grab onto as you move past something, it just becomes more and more difficult while you’re in that water."
The Billings Fire Department says those who recreate on or near the Yellowstone River should be wearing a life jacket. “If people are out here, we really encourage them to use a U.S. Coast Guard approved life jacket, preferably one that’s designed for white water situations,” Rickbeil said.
CLICK HERE for more resources to find the right life jacket for your river recreating activities.