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Young Victims Swept Away in Kings River Torrent Are Identified

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Photo of the South Fork of the Kings River in Kings Canyon National Park
Santiago Barajas, 4, and his sister, Victoria Barajas, 8, of Fresno were carried away by the Kings River's swift currents on Sunday, May 21, 2023 . (GV Wire File)
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The Fresno County Sheriff-Coroner’s Office has identified the victims in Sunday’s fatal tragedy on the Kings River as 4-year-old Santiago Barajas, and his sister, 8-year-old Victoria Barajas, of Fresno.

Rescuers recovered Santiago’s body from the Kings River at about 11 a.m. Monday, authorities said.

Fresno County Sheriff’s Office spokesman Tony Botti said in an email that county fire personnel on a boat saw the boy beneath the water caught against a tree.

A firefighter was deployed into the water and recovered the body about 1.75 miles from where he initially went in on Sunday, Botti said.

Search-and-rescue personnel previously recovered  Victoria’s body on Sunday. The siblings were carried away by a fast-moving current driven by high water levels, authorities said.

Sheriff’s deputies and firefighters responded around 2 p.m. Sunday to an area of the river near Sanger, about a mile from Pine Flat Dam, the sheriff’s office said.

Victoria was found dead less than an hour later by rescuers using boats and a helicopter. They did not immediately say how the child died. She was found about one-fifth of mile from where she entered the water, Botti said.

Rivers Closed Due to Danger

The children, who were not wearing life jackets, entered the water with their mother and another adult while trying to make their way to climb on a specific rock.

The Kings and San Joaquin rivers have been closed to recreational users since March 14 because heavy winter storms and melting snow created high water levels and hazardous conditions, the sheriff’s department said.

“Numerous closure signs are placed along the waterways informing the public of the importance of staying out of the water,” the department said.

Warming weather is melting huge amounts of accumulated snow in the mountains that accumulated in a series of epic winter storms.

“The conditions of our waterways will only become more dangerous heading into summer as snow melts and dams release even more water into the rivers,” the sheriff’s office said. “The water remains cold, in the low 50s, the current is swift and trees serve as dangerous obstacles.

(Associated Press contributed to this story.)

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