Kayakers return to L.A. River after tanker truck gas spill

A fledgling L.A. River kayak company resumed its tours this week after recreational activity was halted for three days in the aftermath of a tanker crash that sent gas spilling through storm drains near the waterway and igniting.

All normal recreational activity was stopped in the newly opened area approved for citizens to kayak, walk and fish in, said Steve Appleton, co-owner of L.A. River Kayak Safari.

Appleton’s company was leading a Saturday morning tour when the crash occurred.


One participant, Deanna Barrett, who had joined the group out of curiosity along with her 16-year-old daughter, said the group was just over halfway through with their trip when they spotted smoke behind them.

“The smoke just kept billowing and then it got darker, and it looked like it was actually going to float down the river,” Barrett said.

The group continued to paddle until a Mountains Recreation and Conservation Authority ranger warned them they would need to leave, she said.

The 2.5 mile section of the river opened for public use in May for the first time since the 1930s, when the Army Corps of Engineers paved the river

Appleton decided to launch his company in time for the opening so local residents could have another choice for how to explore the river. He said he hopes the recent accident does not alter what had been an increasingly positive public perception of the natural space.

Being on the river allows one to enter a “completely different state of mind,” according to Appleton. He described birds, fish and frogs in the area, plus the usual river smells.

The recreational area of the river reopened Tuesday, said Appleton, whose company leads tours six days a week. He canceled and refunded tours planned for Saturday, Sunday, Monday and Tuesday.

Appleton said he and other river advocates had been up against criticism of the space for some time, but never imagined an accident like Saturday’s might occur.

“One thing that didn’t cross our minds was that we could be paddling through flames,” the 12-year Elysian Valley riverside resident said with a laugh.

Authorities said Monday that very little fuel actually reached the river. Fewer than five or six gallons of gasoline was estimated to enter the water itself, and any gasoline absorbed into the sandbar was expected to evaporate quickly, they said.

Barrett said she was nicely surprised by the cleanliness of the water and the wildlife present.

“The variety of birds that you were actually able to see was a little bit of a surprise because you’re sitting right in the middle of downtown,” she said.

Barrett, who lives in the Crenshaw area, said she intended to return for another paddle.

The accident highlights a need for an organizing group that would coordinate all those interested in the river’s use, from Caltrans to the kayakers, Appleton said.


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