Four youths escaped without serious injury Thursday from the shallow but swift waters of Pacoima Wash, which Fire Department officials said illustrated the dangers of entering flood control channels even when water levels are low.
The two incidents occurred within less than three hours of each other in Pacoima and Sylmar, where the wash channels waters flowing out of the mountains to the north.
"We actually do more rescues in that area than any other," said Capt. Jack Wise, the commander of the Los Angeles Fire Department's swift-water rescue team. He estimated the foot-high water was running about 25 mph--fast enough to prevent someone from regaining their feet.
"That's one of the fastest areas because of the mountains. The gradient is steeper there than in other parts of the city," he said. "Once you get going in there, there's no way out."
At 11:45 a.m., two girls, 13 and 14, "fell into the water trying to recover their bikes," which had been blown into the channel near El Cariso Park as they walked alongside, said San Fernando police spokesman Brian Sliwoski.
As the girls were swept four miles down the channel, passersby heard their cries for help and called San Fernando police, who deployed at least 15 officers for the rescue.
At 4th Street, two officers tried to catch the girls with their bare hands but the current ripped them free.
One girl was rescued near San Fernando Road, where she caught a rope officers held across the channel. The other kept going, with officers shouting advice from the banks, until Det. Lance Steaman, who stands 6-foot-3 and weighs 240 pounds, scooped the girl out with one arm near Paxton Park, Sliwoski said.
The 14-year-old was released after treatment for minor hypothermia--chilling by the cold water--at Providence Holy Cross Medical Center in Mission Hills. The 13-year-old was turned over to her mother.
Less than three hours later a 14-year-old boy lost his footing trying to cross the wash near the 11500 block of Bradley Avenue, said Fire Department spokesman Jim Wells.
A 19-year-old man sloshed through the channel and managed to drag the boy to safety but the would-be rescuer was dragged three miles down the channel, until he caught a rope thrown by another bystander near Paxton Street and climbed onto a bridge abutment. He was plucked off by a Fire Department crew using the aerial ladder on their truck as a crane.
Both victims were also taken to Providence Holy Cross Medical Center with scrapes, bruises and minor hypothermia, Wells said.
Since the rainy season began in September at least 17 people have gotten stuck in flood channels throughout the city, Wise said. Many of those were children who misjudged the strength and speed of the water.
Even if there is no rain, Wise said, melting mountain snow, springs fed by full aquifers and brimming reservoirs will release rushing water for weeks to come.
"Just because it's a dry, sunny day doesn't mean the washes aren't dangerous," he said.