Fresno County has closed the San Joaquin and Kings rivers because of rising stormwaters that could threaten boaters and anglers, Sheriff John Zanoni said Tuesday afternoon.
Anyone caught violating the closures could be subject to a misdemeanor citation, he told reporters at a storm news briefing. The Sheriff’s Office is monitoring rivers and creeks with drones and fixed cameras and will be able to see when people are on the river illegally, he said.
Zanoni said the ban would remain in effect through the emergency declaration and has been put in place in part to protect residents from “high and sometimes erratic water levels,” but also to make sure that the county’s limited emergency resources are not stretched too thinly.
“We don’t want folks out on the river potentially creating their own emergency and then having to be rescued,” he said.
Firebaugh Under Flood Threat
Meanwhile, emergency crews have been sandbagging a stretch of the San Joaquin River in Firebaugh to protect the city from rising water, CalFire Chief Dustin Hail said during the briefing.
The goal is to create a berm 2,500 feet long and 4 feet high at a spot along the river that the city and Department of Water Resources deem to be particularly vulnerable to flooding, he said.
The city of Firebaugh has issued an evacuation warning to its residents, who should be prepared to leave their homes if the river overtops its banks.
Terri Mejorado, the county’s emergency manager, said the Federal Emergency Management Agency and California Office of Emergency Services are sending 60 trailers to the Fresno Fairgrounds with enough food and supplies to feed 20,000 evacuated people over three days. Although the trailers will be at the fairgrounds as a central hub, they may be sent into surrounding counties as well as across Fresno County, she said.
The county’s shelter remains open at the Sanger Community Center, 730 Recreation Ave., she said. Evacuees may bring dogs and cats, but larger animals need to go to the Fresno Fairgrounds.
The county is providing trailers at the fairgrounds for residents who need to stay near their animals to provide food or medication, but residents may not bring their own trailers, she said.
County Wants Your Damage Reports
Mejorado said the county’s website, FresnoCountyEmergency.com, now contains a form in English and Spanish for residents to report any property damage from the storms starting Feb. 23. With information compiled from those reports, the county may be able to apply for state or federal disaster funding, she said.
Mejorado emphasized that residents should not use the forms to report damage from the December and January storms.
Officials warned that the easing Tuesday afternoon of the latest moisture-dense storm to soak the Valley and Sierra doesn’t mean residents should let down their guard.
The possibility of thunderstorms Tuesday afternoon could bring high wind gusts that could topple trees and utility poles on already-saturated soils, Hail said.
Mejorado said residents need to stay vigilant. “For the next couple of days we will not have the severe weather that we’ve had for the last couple of days. But that doesn’t mean that the water stops coming down the rivers and streams,” she said. “The flows will continue as the snow melts. So everybody needs to be very, very watchful of those. What could be a trickling stream today could be rushing in just a couple of hours.”
Flood Advisory Extended
Tuesday’s story prompted the National Weather Service to issue a flood advisory in addition to a flood watch that’s been in effect since Sunday.
Heavy rain — the Valley’s forecast is for as much as 1.5 inches rain, and 3 to 6 inches for the Sierra — could create localized flooding, said Jim Brusda, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Hanford. The flood advisory, which covers the entire Valley from north of Merced to south of Bakersfield, was extended through 5 p.m. Tuesday.
Brusda said Tuesday morning that the main message from the National Weather Service continues to be: Avoid flooded roadways. “Turn around, don’t drown.”
There is a potential for thunderstorms Tuesday afternoon, but they are unlikely to be similar to the violent ones that raked parts of the Valley on Sunday, Brusda said.
The flood watch will remain in effect through at least 10 a.m. Wednesday as rain continues to melt snow in the lower Sierra, adding that runoff to the water pooling in the Valley from Tuesday’s storm.
Tulare County Dams Are Stable: Officials
Tulare County officials announced Monday that Lake Success and Lake Kaweah were nearing capacity and the dam operators would be opening spillways to manage water levels.
In response to community concerns about the dams’ safety, county officials said that both are stable and operating as designed, and that the opening of the spillways is normal under these circumstances.
But uncontrolled rivers are already doing some damage. The Tule River overtopped its banks last Friday and flooded a Springville neighborhood, as seen in this Twitter post of a drone video.
Crazy #flooding in #Springville #California #atmospheric_river after heavy #rain and snow melt. Dozens of homes flooding, one collapsed and many more threatened to collapse. @jpetramala pic.twitter.com/4IAUf17QjK
— WxChasing- Brandon Clement (@bclemms) March 10, 2023
Madera County officials resupplied a neighborhood that had been cut off by a road wash-out on Tuesday. Residents of the Kinsman Flat subdivision in North Fork, who were under a shelter-in-place order, had sought assistance from the Madera County Sheriff’s Office to obtain food, animal feed, hay, and wood.
The sheriff’s office coordinated a food drop-off at Gnarly Carrot Grocery Store in North Fork. The American Red Cross donated a truckload of food and supplies, and residents ordered food and animal supplies from local stores including Gnarly Carrot and Box Feed.
Deputies then joined with community members to ferry the supplies to the cut-off community.
Next Big Storm
After Tuesday’s storm moves out of the Valley by early evening, the region will get a bit of a break until next week, Brusda said. A storm forecast for this weekend is now expected to bring showers instead of downpours, he said.
But there is “significant” potential for a more intense storm in the early part of next week, he said.