The rain that came down on Sunday, July 31st caused multiple search and rescue missions of campers and hikers throughout Inyo County.
This included the Inyo Sheriff’s Office (ICSO) responding to a dramatic group rescue of campers near Lone Pine Creek. At around 4 p.m., the ICSO received phone calls about flooding near the Lone Pine Campground. ICSO Deputies and Lone Pine Fire responded promptly, locating over 20 people stranded in the campground due to the Lone Pine Creek’s flooding. The debris flow had cut off access to the road into the campground on its south side, and the north side of the campground, which borders Lone Pine Creek, was inaccessible due to the creek’s overflowing at an impassable rate.
This caused campers to corral onto an “island” in the center of the campground in order to evade the flooding. Deputies ordered the stranded campers to seek high ground on a small ridge on the east end of the campground, where they parked their cars and waited for help. During the chaos, two campers got bitten by another camper’s dog.
CalFire, Forest Service, Fire and Law Enforcement personnel, California Highway Patrol (CHP), and Inyo Search and Rescue (SAR) responded to assist the group of campers.
After several hours of multiple different attempts to get the campers off of the island, Forest Service Fire and SAR were able to build a hand-made ladder bridge and anchor to bring the campers safely across the water.
The Inyo County Sheriff’s Office was able to transport the campers, using its jail van, to Statham Hall where ICSO and Health and Human Services (HHS) personnel were able to open a shelter. Due to limited lodging vacancies in the area, HHS and Inyo County Public Works brought sleeping cots and emergency care kits to the shelter.
County CAO Leslie Chapman and District 5 Supervisor Matt Kingsley were able to get Pizza Factory in Lone Pine to make free pizza for the displaced campers.
By August 1st around noon, the Inyo County Road Department, Forest Service and Department of Water and Power were able to open the road to the campground again. The ISCO used their jail van to again transport the displaced campers back to their vehicles so they could exit the area.
Overall, about 35 people were displaced due to the rains on July 31st. In addition to the campers at Lone Pine Creek, this also included subjects stranded at the road to Horseshoe Meadows, which sustained multiple mudslides up to 8 feet high. One civilian vehicle was damaged, and 50 vehicles were stranded at the trailhead. Inyo County Road Dept. was able to open the roadways for exiting traffic.
Foothill Road also sustained severe slides, leading to the road’s closure for an extended period of time. Another 7 people were stranded at the Shepherd Pass TrailHead. ICSO was able to guide them out using the southern road leading to Manzanar.
Onion Valley Road sustained debris flow as well, causing the pack station and campgrounds at the top of the road to shelter in place.
“The Road Department is still out there cleaning up messes throughout the whole middle and south sections of our county, from Independence all the way down to Death Valley. ICSO and the Fire Department’s got the rescue part down, but those guys are doing all the grunt work still,” said Lieutenant Paul Derr. “The displaced campers that we helped were actually kind of excited about the whole thing, and they were impressed with the services that Inyo County was able to provide them.”
ICSO has already received letters from the displaced campers thanking them for their professionalism, cool-headed planning, and bravery that afternoon and evening.