Severe thunderstorm prompts multiple search and rescue operations in Washington County

Lightning lights up the sky during a thunderstorm seen from Santa Clara, Utah, Aug. 23, 2020 | Photo by Hollie Stark, St. George News

ST. GEORGE — Members of the Washington County Sheriff’s Office Search and Rescue crew responded to multiple incidents resulting from a severe thunderstorm Sunday that caused high winds, lightning and flooding in parts of Washington County.

Lightning lights up the sky during a thunderstorm seen from Santa Clara, Utah, Aug. 23, 2020 | Photo by Hollie Stark, St. George News

Sunday proved to be a long night for personnel who have already had a long month of emergency responses as the largely volunteer agency is on par to surpass their highest number of rescues in a year.

Washington County Sheriff’s Sgt. Darrell Cashin told St. George News that as the storm started approaching Sunday, like everyone else, he was watching calls come in regarding flooding and fires from lightning strikes. He offered area emergency personnel help from the search and rescue teams, some of whom are dedicated swift water and dive team rescuers.

The first call they got was an agency assist at a care center in St. George where there was severe flooding.

Cashin said the already overwhelmed St. George Police and fire departments had search and rescue send a crew to help evacuate residents of the care center and do any other tasks that were needed.

“There were way too many calls and way too many incidents for everybody,” Cashin said, adding that they were told to get a crew to the care center right away.

As crews were responding at the care center, Cashin said, they got a call about a boat and four kayakers that were stranded out at Gunlock Reservoir in Gunlock State Park.

Flood safety tips | Image courtesy of washcosafety, St. George News

Members of the swift water and dive teams arrived at Gunlock Reservoir with the dive boat and were able to locate the vessel in the middle of the reservoir and get it out of the water, Cashin said.


Three of the four kayakers were able to get to the beach on the west side of the reservoir, opposite the docks, but one of the kayakers was still missing from their group, Cashin said.

Crews were able to locate the fourth kayak, but the kayaker was still missing. Rescue crews and state park personnel launched a ground search and the man was eventually found below the overflow. The gentleman was hiked out and checked for medical needs.

Cashin said that despite it being a long night – the Gunlock rescue ended at around 1:30 a.m. – both incidents had a good outcome.

Cashin said both rescues on the water were the result of the storm moving in too fast and hard.

This was just a weird storm coming in really hard and really fast and it dumped a lot of water in a localized area and it just caught a lot of people,” he said.

Washington County Sheriff’s Search and Rescue shared some flooding tips from Washington County Safety on their Facebook page:

  • Get to higher ground and out of areas subject to flooding.
  • Do not drive or walk into water. It only takes 6 inches of water to knock a person off their feet.
  • Stay informed. Monitor local radar, television, weather radio, internet or social media for updates.

The agency assist at the St. George Care Center and the rescues at Gunlock State Park were not the only rescues for the busy crew Sunday.

At around 4 p.m. Sunday, crews were sent out to Snow Canyon State Park to assist with a female hiker on the Lava Tubes Trail who was called in for heat-related issues.

The female was hiking with two male companions and became dehydrated. Cashin said they sent crews from both the West Canyon Road and the Lava Tubes Trail and were able to locate her. The female was tolerating fluids well, so they were able to help hydrate her and get her to awaiting personnel from Ivins EMS.

Cashin said at the time the hiker was located, it was around 108 degrees outside.

File photo: Scout Cave, for depiction purposes only. | Photo by Don Gilman, St. George News

“We’ve had a lot of that lately,” Cashin said referring to heat-related rescues. “It’s hard to understand why.”

Since Aug. 8, the search and rescue team has responded to 13 incidents, primarily involving lost or dehydrated hikers, Cashin said. One rescue in the Kolob Canyons area of Zion National Park involved a male hiker in his 20s who suffered from a heat-related illness to the point of delirium, Cashin said.

Cashin said by the time crews reached him, he was laying in the trail in only his underwear while his hiking companion poured water over him.

He was in bad shape,” Cashin said. “He did not know who he was.”

The man was taken by an all-terrain vehicle to a waiting ambulance from Gold Cross of Cedar City.

Of the many calls in August for heat-related illness, three of which took place on the Scout Cave Trail near Snow Canyon State Park, Cashin said the temperature has been between 105-112 degrees each time.

“You see a theme here?” he said.

Cashin cautioned hikers not to hike in the middle of the day during such extreme heat and said if they plan to be out in high temperatures, they need to start hydrating at least the day before their planned hike. Drinking water on the day of is not enough.

As of Sunday, search and rescue crews had responded to 113 calls this year. The highest number of rescues they have responded to in any other year is 132. Cashin said that is a number that they could reach by the end of September if things continue in the same pattern.

“It’s been interesting,” he said, adding he is not sure why rescues have been so high. He speculated that the COVID-19 pandemic could be one reason since people are heading outdoors to recreate more because it is a place they feel safe from the virus.

Copyright St. George News, LLC, 2020, all rights reserved.

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