'Extremely busy year' for Multnomah County search and rescue
Search and rescue officials in Multnomah County are conducting a recruitment push amid a spike in calls for service this year.
The Multnomah County Sheriff's Office has responded to more search and rescue calls this year than any other year since the Eagle Creek Fire in 2017.
"It has been an extremely busy year," search and rescue coordinator Sgt. Brian Gerkman said. "Our search and rescue volunteers have done an exceptional job tackling trails in challenging conditions and circumstances."
So far this year, there have been 18 search and rescue operations in Multnomah County, with 14 in the Columbia River Gorge. Eleven of the operations have occurred since May, and five occurred in August.
Two operations in August involved responding to fatal falls in the gorge. On Aug. 25, the body of 20-year-old Kriss Arturo Garcia was recovered from the bottom of a cliff near the Angel's Rest Trail after an apparently fatal fall. Days earlier, on Aug. 19, 62-year-old Jessica Warejoncas died after falling 100 feet at Wiesendanger Falls.
Officials believe the increase in search and rescue activity can be attributed to more visitors traveling to the gorge this year, with a renewed interest in the outdoors as the pandemic subsides and trails reopen following the Eagle Creek Fire. The fire burned 48,000 acres, including several popular hiking trails.
"We've found that the majority of people who need rescue are not prepared for trail and weather conditions or become disoriented and lost because they are unfamiliar with the area," search and rescue officials said in a statement. "Hazards still exist in areas burned by the Eagle Creek Fire."
The Sheriff's Office partners exclusively with the nonprofit Multnomah County Sheriff's Office Search and Rescue program for search and rescue operations. The program is volunteer-based, with youth members making up 60% of the program's 81 active volunteers. MCSOSAR volunteers work directly with sheriff's deputies, who lead and coordinate search efforts. It's the second-longest active search and rescue team in the region, operating since 1961.
Between time on trails, attending trainings and other community events, the program's volunteers have logged more than 9,000 hours of work combined this year, said head MCSOSAR advisor Ta Adams Keller. Those hours include 1,257 search and rescue mission hours.
MCSOAR is recruiting young adult and teenage volunteers above the age of 14 for its dedicated, highly motivated team, officials said.
The second of two orientation meetings will be from 7 to 9 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 21, at the Sheriff's Office's training building at 3083 N.E. 170th Place in Portland. Anyone is welcome to attend an orientation meeting for information about the organization and training program. Recruit training begins in October.
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