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Heat-related helicopter rescues soar

Posted at 7:08 PM, Jul 12, 2021
and last updated 2021-07-12 22:08:35-04

SAN DIEGO (KGTV) - The U.S. Forest Service is warning about the dangers of hiking in the summer heat.

Since the start of the year, crews have rescued dozens of hikers at Cedar Creek Falls and Three Sisters Falls trails.

"This time of year, we start to get a lot of rescues if people are going down to the falls," said Palomar District Ranger Amy Reid.

So far this year, emergency crews have made 35 heat-related medical responses to the Cedar Creek and Three Sisters falls and trails.

"Hiking back out of Cedar Creek Falls, it's like climbing 87 flights of stairs," Reid said. "So imagine doing that in 100-degree heat. It can really take a toll on people."

Things were so hot over the weekend the Forest Service had to close the Three Sisters trail.

"We take closing the National Forest very seriously. We don't do it without a really good reason. In this case, it's public safety and employee safety," Reid said.

When people can't get out by foot, the rescue comes from the sky.

Rescues are a joint venture between the Forest Service, CAL FIRE, and the San Diego County Sheriff's Department.

The Sherriff's Department operates one patrol helicopter and one for hoist rescues.

Every time the hoist helicopter is in the air for a rescue, it costs around $1,200 an hour.

Most flights to rescue someone from Three Sisters or Cedar Creek take at least 90 minutes. The cost estimate only includes helicopter costs; it doesn't take into account the staffing costs.

The Sheriff's Department handles rescues in more than just the forest areas, but their rescue numbers have been climbing the past year. In just the first four months of 2021, the number of hoist rescues has surpassed the total number of hoist rescues from all last year.

While crews don't recommend taking the trails in the peak of summer, if people are intent on going, they suggest starting early in the morning.

"Take plenty of water, a gallon or more a person," Reid said. "Wear light clothing, a hat, wear sunscreen and try to get out before 10 in the morning. We don't advise hiking these trails between 10 and 4.”