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Campers and pets rescued at Dogtown Campground

The Coconino County Search and Rescue team has responded to dozens of rescue missions this winter season, twice the number of rescues over last year. (Photo/Aaron Dick/CCSR)

The Coconino County Search and Rescue team has responded to dozens of rescue missions this winter season, twice the number of rescues over last year. (Photo/Aaron Dick/CCSR)

WILLIAMS, Ariz. — Following one of last week's storms, Coconino County Search and Rescue responded to a report of campers stranded at Dogtown Lake Campground Feb. 22.

After spending a couple days with clear skies at the campground earlier in the week, snow began to fall Feb. 21 and the group realized they were stranded.

The party called authorities in the early morning of Feb. 22. With limited resources and more snow on the way, first responders were able to located the group around 5 p.m.

Three people, two dogs and three cats were rescued, and three vehicles were recovered.

Search and rescue had been finishing up a call in Kendrick Park with their snowcat when they received the call and responded to Dogtown Lake Campground.

Fortunately, the group had enough supplies to keep them safe while waiting for help to arrive, said Aaron Dick, SAR coordinator for the Coconino County Sheriff’s Office

Rescuers initially attempted rescue using a track suburban to access the group, but were unsuccessful due to the depth of snow.

“We did try the suburban first and after a couple hours, obviously we weren’t going to make it all the way in,” Dick said. “We got that vehicle back out to the road and then took the snowcat in. The snowcat is a slow moving vehicle at about nine miles per hour, so it takes a couple hours.”

The group and their pets were transported out to the Perkinsville Road and taken to the Motel 6 in Williams. There were no reported injuries.

Coconino County Search and Rescue has had several calls for rescues this winter season. According to Dick, many of the calls are because of the open backcountry roads. People unfamiliar with the area travel down roads that may be unsafe because of the snow. Often, they go with vehicles that are not equipped for icy, snowy or muddy travel.

“It seems like quite a few people are not from the area, so they just don’t realize how much snow northern Arizona can get. A lot of it seems to be inadequate preparation and not paying attention to what the weather is,” Dick said.

Navigations apps such as Waze, Apple Maps and Google Maps suggest alternative routes that often take people down unmaintained forest service roads, or routes that aren’t regularly patrolled. In these instances, travelers commonly get stuck, he said.

“If you’re traveling from one place to another place and the road gets closed due to snow or accidents on the highway, we want people to be very careful about following these apps routing directions onto main paved roads where the conditions are likely going to be worse. We’ve seen that several times,” Dick said.

Dick urges travelers to pay attention to the conditions outside, and determine if they have the right vehicle, clothing, supplies and equipment for travel.

“What we’re encouraging people to do for winter travel is do some trip research ahead of time,” Dick said. “Most of the campgrounds, like the Dogtown Lake Campground, is closed for the season and doesn’t open up until May. So if this group had researched that, they would’ve probably realized it wasn’t a suitable place to be camping.”

Last year at this time, Coconino County Search and Rescue had completed about 15 search and rescue missions. This year, the group has received twice the amount of missions. According to Dick, most of the rescues have been around the Flagstaff and Williams areas.

Dick encourages travelers to be prepared for emergencies. CCSR suggests being aware of the weather forecast and keeping extra warm clothing, food, water, an ice scraper, a fully-charged cell phone and a cell-phone charger in their vehicles. In case of an emergency, people should dial 911, even if it looks like you don’t have cell phone service. If stuck, travelers should remain in the vehicle, making them easier for SAR to locate them.

Travelers should inform others of where they’re going, when they should be there, and what route they’re taking. That way if they don’t show up, rescuers know where to start looking.

“We’ve had people trying to get to different locations like Sedona or Grand Canyon and it’s important to remember that those places will be there the next day,” Dick said. “So if the conditions are really bad and you can’t make it to your destination, the safest option often times is to stay put in Williams or in Flagstaff and wait for a day or two for the conditions to improve.”

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