Area near family found dead closed due to ‘unknown dangers’

Federal officials closed off trails and campgrounds in Sierra National Forest, citing the presence of “unknown hazards,” near the area where a British software developer and his family, including a dog, were found dead under mysterious circumstances last month.

As a precautionary measure and to protect the public from unknown hazards in the area, the SNF has decided to close several recreational areas, roads and trails along the Merced River and the South Fork until they are deemed safe for public use. Sierra National Forest (SNF) announced in a press release on Saturday.

Officials revealed that the closures of more than a dozen picnic areas, campgrounds and forest trails, from Aug. 29 to Sept. 29, are due to “unknown hazards found in and around the Savage Lundy Trail.”

California's Sierra National Forest closed off more than a dozen trails, campgrounds, and picnic areas, citing 'unknown hazards'

California’s Sierra National Forest closed off more than a dozen trails, campgrounds, and picnic areas, citing ‘unknown hazards’

The closures announced Saturday are in and around the area where Jonathan Gerrish, wife Ellen Chung, their daughter Muji and their dog were found dead in August.

The closures announced Saturday are in and around the area where Jonathan Gerrish, wife Ellen Chung, their daughter Muji and their dog were found dead in August.

The closures announced Saturday are in and around the area where Jonathan Gerrish, wife Ellen Chung, their daughter Muji and their dog were found dead in August.

Forest managers have closed recreational areas from August 29 to September 26

Forest managers have closed recreational areas from August 29 to September 26

Forest managers have closed recreational areas from August 29 to September 26

On August 17, search and rescue teams discovered the bodies of Jonathan Gerrish, his wife, Ellen Chung, their one-year-old daughter, Muji, and the family’s dog, Oksi, on the Savage Lundy Trail.

The post announcing the closures highlights that signs have been posted in the area in mid-July warning the public of “potentially harmful algal blooms.”

On Monday, the US Forest Service closed all California forests through Sept. 17 due to raging wildfires, including the Dixie, the second-largest wildfire in state history.

Two weeks after the grim finds of the family’s bodies in remote Mariposa County, investigators still don’t know how they died.

According to the latest update from the Mariposa County Sheriff’s Office, based on autopsies and an autopsy performed on the parents, child and their dog, officials have ruled out gunshot wounds or injuries caused by another type of weapon as causes of death. as chemical hazards, like gases from an old mine, along the Savage Lundy Trial.

The bodies of the family of three and their pet were found on the Savage Lundy Trail 2.4 miles from their parked truck

The bodies of the family of three and their pet were found on the Savage Lundy Trail 2.4 miles from their parked truck

The bodies of the family of three and their pet were found on the Savage Lundy Trail 2.4 miles from their parked truck

Since mid-July, signs have been placed in the area warning the public of toxic algal blooms

Authorities are still waiting for toxicology reports and cell phone data before making a decision on how the family died.

Additional tests are also being conducted by the CDC and the Office of Environmental Health Hazards Assessment on water samples taken from the area and the drinking water the family had with them at the time of their death.

“We know that John and Ellen’s family and friends are desperate for answers, our team of detectives is working around the clock,” Mariposa County Sheriff Jeremy Briese said in a statement last week. “Cases like these require us to be methodical and thorough, while also reaching out to any resources we can find to help us get those answers to them as quickly as possible.”

Investigators first revealed that Gerrish was researching the Hites Cove walk on a phone app the day before the family left.

Two weeks later, investigators still don't know how the family died

Two weeks later, investigators still don't know how the family died

Toxicology results are pending after gunshot wounds and injuries from other weapons have been ruled out

Toxicology results are pending after gunshot wounds and injuries from other weapons have been ruled out

Two weeks later, investigators still don’t know how the family died. Toxicology results are pending after gunshot wounds and injuries from other weapons have been ruled out

On August 15, around 7:45 a.m., a witness saw the family drive to the track in their truck.

Detectives believe they managed most of a challenging 8.5-mile loop, including 8 miles down a steep slope with little shade when temperatures reached 109 degrees, before dying on the hiking trail about 2.4 miles from their truck, which was parked at the Hites Cove trailhead.

Oksi, the family's 9-year-old Akita mix, was found dead along with his owners

Oksi, the family's 9-year-old Akita mix, was found dead along with his owners

Oksi, the family’s 9-year-old Akita mix, was found dead along with his owners

At 11 p.m. on Aug. 16, a missing person was reported, and about three hours later, a Mariposa County sheriff’s department discovered their truck at the end of Hites Cove Road near the trailhead.

Search teams were deployed on the steep trails and the family was found at 11 a.m. on August 17 along the hairpin bends leading back to their trucks.

There was little evidence for detectives at the scene and no signs of malicious intent, such as trauma, police said.

No significant evidence was found in searches of the family home and vehicles, the sheriff’s office said. FBI agents are currently working to extract data from Gerrish and Chung’s phones.

They were found on the Savage-Lundy Hiking Trail at Hites Cove, which was once a thriving mining community after gold was discovered in 1861.

Gerrish was a software developer for Snapchat, had previously worked for Google. He graduated from Newcastle University.

His American wife studied psychology and the couple was very active, often spending time outdoors or traveling.

WHAT ARE THE RISKS OF ALGAE FLOWERS?

Cyanobacteria, also known as blue-green algae, are an ancient class of organisms that allow the flowers to be present almost anywhere water is found, but thrive in warm, quiet bodies such as lakes and ponds.

It includes species that produce some of the most potent toxins known to man, and their impact on humans is only partially understood.

The incidence of freshwater-damaging algal blooms (FHABs) has skyrocketed in recent years, with some scientists attributing the increase to climate change.

What are the health risks?

Algae can produce various toxins. Humans can be exposed to these toxins through skin contact (e.g. while swimming), inhalation (e.g. while motorboating or water skiing) or ingesting contaminated water.

These toxins can cause skin rashes, nausea, vomiting, stomach pain, fever, and headache.

Occasionally, the toxins can cause more serious illnesses, such as liver and brain damage.

Children are at greater risk than adults of developing problems because of their relatively lower body weight.

The California Department of Public Health says it has no known human deaths from “recreational or drinking water exposure to cyanobacterial toxin,” although some animals have been killed by algae.

How can the health risks be minimized?

Not all blue-green algae blooms and foams are poisonous, but it is not possible to tell by appearance and so it is best to assume they are harmful and take the following precautions:

  • Do not swim in the water
  • Do not swallow the water!
  • Avoid contact with the algae
  • Do not eat fish caught out of the water!
  • Please pay attention and follow all warnings posted around the water

Anyone who has come into contact with water containing algae should immediately shower with fresh water.

Anyone who has been in contact with contaminated water and has become ill should seek medical attention.

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