UPDATE: 24 hours after a public warning about a hazardous tree in the Puntledge River was issued, several agencies combined forces to remove the tree.
Comox Valley Ground Search and Rescue (CVGSAR) has launched a “public safety advisory” regarding the hazards of tubing, after a large tree fell into the Puntledge River, in Courtenay.
“The tree is almost river-wide, so right across the river,” said Mike Bryan, CVGSAR swift water rescue co-ordinator. “There is a way to walk around the right-hand side, but the main flow of the river goes through on the left. So if you aren’t paying attention and you are just tubing along in the current, you will be taken right into this large tree.”
The tree is located a few hundred metres downstream from the river shore area at the lower (east) end of Puntledge Park rock beach.
From a timing perspective, Bryan said the tree is a little more than two minutes downstream from the rock and reed island that can be seen just beyond the east end of Puntledge Park.
“There is water pouring over top, but unfortunately there is also water pouring underneath and it sounds like … several people have already gone underneath it and barely escaped. So we are very concerned about it.
“From [upstream] you can see the branches on the one end, but what you aren’t realizing is that water is pouring over a huge log on the left side.”
Launching such a public advisory campaign is not normal practice for CVGSAR, but Bryan said the circumstances surrounding this particular hazard warrants the extra attention.
“Anytime there is a river-wide hazard like this, we are not always going to be aware of it, and we are not always going to be able to put out public notices, but this one, because of its location, and because of the way it is acting, we are very concerned that someone does get pinned,” he said.
The CVGSAR Facebook post about the hazard was shared more than 800 times within the first day.
Many of the comments suggest the removal of the tree.
While Bryan did not dismiss that as a possibility somewhere down the road, the tree is actually a natural hazard – no different than the large rocks, sandbars or islands that make up the river path.
“People need to remember [when travelling the Puntledge] that they are on a natural river. There is literally hundreds of trees between here and the hatchery that could come down,” he said.
Another word of advice Bryan offered was to consider keeping the beer and coolers at bay while traversing the Puntledge.
“We want people to think about being sober. If you’re not sober and you are trying to make decisions quickly, or you are trying to rescue your companions, it could turn into a very bad situation,” he said.
Public flotation devices are also encouraged.
“Any time you’ve got moving water, there’s a lot of force there,” said Bryan. “Even if you are a very strong swimmer, you are not going to be able to push against the force of the water.
“This isn’t an amusement park. This is a natural river. There’s no one patrolling it, and no lifeguards on duty.”