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Firefighters rescue several homeless campers along rising SLO Creek

Posted at 6:25 PM, Jan 17, 2019
and last updated 2019-01-18 00:20:46-05

San Luis Obispo Creek is flowing steadily after the latest rainstorm.

Early Thursday morning, firefighters had to pull people out of the rising waters.

Several rescues were made. One of them happened along the creek near the Bob Jones Trail. A man and his cat were pulled to safety. Their camp was washed away by the swift-moving water.

“It’s very scary when it goes from a tiny, tiny creek to a huge river so quickly,” said Suzanne York who lives in a makeshift camp along the creek.

At 1:42 Thursday morning, the National Weather Service issued a flash flood warning. It woke up many people who received the wireless emergency alert on their cell phones.

“Because there was a line of thunderstorms sweeping through the area, that’s when we issued the warning because we received rain rates of up to one inch per hour,” said Eric Boldt, Warning Coordination Meteorologist for the National Weather Service Los Angeles/Oxnard.

More than 312,000 people were affected, including those living along San Luis Obispo Creek.

“We actually woke up prior to receiving the alert,” said Steven Sheller who lives with York along the creek. “The rain and wind, they were coming down pretty good. The tarp was back and forth making a lot of noise.”

About an hour later, around 2:45 a.m., crews were called out to the Bob Jones Trail to rescue a man and his cat. They were trapped on an island created by two channels of water.

The fire department had to wait a couple of hours to make that rescue because the water was flowing too fast.

“The flow started to drastically go from approximately 35 miles per hour to maybe six or seven miles per hour and when that happened we decided to go ahead and attempt to rescue and it was successful,” said San Luis Obispo City Fire Captain Steven Gonzalez.

“It was really very shocking and very worried about who it might be,” York said.

“Thinking about other people who camp along the creek, down in the creek kind of had me worried,” Sheller added.

About a quarter mile away, around 4:30 a.m., another call came in. This one in a creek bottom just south of Los Osos Valley Road.

A couple in a tent were about 25 feet from the embankment. A rope system was used to pull them to safety.

The fire department says they put warnings out along the creek prior to the storm. No one was injured.

SLO City Fire says it trains for these types of rescues at least two times a year.