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'A very unforgiving area' | Despite safety solutions, dangers lurk in Wilson Creek

Wilson Creek in Caldwell County's Pisgah National Forest recorded its first drowning in nearly eight years.

COLLETTSVILLE, N.C. — As Caldwell County deputies continue to investigate how a teenager drowned over the weekend in Wilson Creek, Collettsville firefighters are warning visitors to plan ahead before their trips.

Collettsville Fire Department said they responded to the drowning around 6 p.m. Saturday.

Despite heavy thunderstorms, Chief Trevor Key said firefighters found the victim in the water.

"Wilson Creek is a very unforgiving area," Chief Trevor Key said. "It's a very dangerous place."

The free-flowing creek cuts through Pisgah National Forest before meeting with the Johns River and eventually emptying into the Catawba River.

Chief Key said Wilson Creek has a fast current, slippery rock, and murky water following afternoon thunderstorms.

"In my opinion, this is just as strong as a rip current that would be in the ocean," he said.

Despite the risks, Chief Key said efforts to make the area safer have worked because this was Wilson Creek's first drowning in more than seven years.

In the summer of 2013, he said firefighters responded to five drownings just in a two-mile stretch of Wilson Creek.

After that summer, he said they got grant funding to install signs and flood sirens because many of the drownings happened when rain from Grandfather Mountain caused the creek to quickly rise several inches.

Firefighters and deputies patrol the area more frequently when visitors come during the summer months, and they warn people who may be doing dangerous activities in the water.

But as last weekend's drowning showed, Chief Key said it's still dangerous on the creek.

He said the people most at risk are those who don't research the area, including not realizing the area has no cell signal.

"You need to know the area. You need to be prepared," Chief Key said. "Life preservers are a must."

Deputies haven't released the identity of last weekend's drowning victim.

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