Zion rangers warn of heat, toxic bacteria, rescue need

SPRINGDALE, Utah. — With the ongoing drought and summer temperatures spiking to record highs, Zion National Park is asking visitors to be diligent about heat-related illnesses as search and rescue operations spike.

During a Tuesday press event, Zion’s Chief Ranger Daniel Fagergren said there has been a noticeable uptick in 911 calls since Memorial Day weekend, the Spectrum newspaper reported.

“That’s the secret: being prepared, knowing your limitations, and watching the weather,” he said.

Zion National Park shared heat safety infographics at their heat advisory press event on June 22, 2021.

Fagregren said there were six heat-related injuries within a two-hour period on one recent weekend.

Zion was forecasted to hit 95 degrees on Tuesday and it had gone as high as 112 during last week’s heat waves. It was forecasted to go back up into triple-digits by the end of this week.

Fagregren said the Zion canyon is like a “parabola,” reflecting heat back into the canyon and increasing the temperature compared to nearby towns.

In addition, toxic cyanobacteria are still present in Zion’s Virgin River, so officials are asking visitors to avoid the water no matter how tempting it may be and to keep an eye out for algal blooms.

“It certainly complicates things especially this time of year as people gravitate toward the water,” Fagergren said.

When on search and rescue calls, rangers wear protective glasses and gloves while making sure to wash off any splashes with clean water.

“You don’t want to get that into your system,” Fagergren said.

Zion officials stressed that the best ways to avoid heat sickness are to wear lightweight clothing, stay hydrated, bring salty snacks, go at a safe pace, avoid strenuous activity, go early in the day and seek out shade.

Visitors from different elevations and climates than southern Utah need to be extra cautious, officials said.

Fagregren said visitors are still encouraged to come to Zion, but to be extra vigilant about heat precautions.

“They can be safe. There are ways that you can do hikes and activities safely,” Fagergren said.

Spokesperson Amanda Rowland said that while search and rescue are there to help, visitors must monitor themselves.

“We do ask visitors to watch out for each other, your safety is your responsibility,” Rowland said.

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