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Family heartbroken when dog dies from jumping into unmarked geothermal ditch

Family heartbroken when dog dies after jumping into unmarked ditch filled with geothermal water
KBOI 2 / Facebook

A Boise, Idaho family is mourning the loss of their dog who died in a freak incident on Sunday. KOMO 4 News reported today that a dog jumped into an unmarked ditch near Table Rock that was filled with hot geothermal water. The dog, a collie mix named Jasper, quickly died in the scalding water, but his family's grief has only just begun.

Jasper and his family, Paul Whitworth and Carrie Semmelroth, had been walking on the Table Rock trails when Jasper innocently leapt into the deadly water - which was approximately 170 degrees Fahrenheit. Semmelroth and Jasper were just finishing their regular Table Rock hike when Jasper approached a stream to cool off and get a drink. According to Semmelroth, she head a "horrific howl" and ran confusedly to her dog. According to Boise Weekly, she tried to pull her dog out when her foot slipped into the near-boiling water. She frantically called Whitworth, who rushed to the trail head. Within minutes, Jasper succumbed to his injuries.

“Jasper was our hiking buddy,” stated Whitworth. “It really caught us off-guard. I mean, who would expect something that dangerous, that could kill something so fast, to be open and unmarked?”

He added: "He yelped and went out howling. I'm sure it was pretty painful. He was burned. He had really bad burns all over his body. It was a pretty traumatic ordeal."

According to the water district, they are trying to resolve the issue. The pump station at the bottom of Table Rock provides geothermal water for hundreds of customers. With high demand, there typically isn't overflow into the ditch, but the Boise Warm Springs Water District recently had to shut off its pumps for safety concerns with nearby construction. Shutting off the pumps led to the overflow into the ditch.

According to Water Board Chairman Patrick Frischmuth, this is a rare event and the board was discussing overflow issues only two days before Jasper's tragic incident. Frischmuth stated: "We were actually in discussion about how we need to deal with this exit and trench here because of the public safety threat."

While the trench was checked on Saturday with no water overflow detected, by Sunday the ditch was filled with the hot water. According to Frischmuth, the water board is trying to work with the City of Boise to create a piping system to store the water underground. The district has now put up warning signs and a temporary fence.

For Jasper's family, questions about this preventable tragedy remain. “We really loved Jasper. We’re pretty heartbroken about losing him, and losing him in such a traumatic way. It could have been prevented and it wasn’t," Whitworth stated.

Jasper's tragic death in geothermal water isn't unprecedented - many lives have been lost by going into the dangerously hot geothermal waters at Yellowstone. In 1981, a 24-year-old man leapt into Celestine Spring's 202-degree water to save his dog, who had jumped into the water, but both perished. In 2000, Lance Buchi and his friends, Tyler Montague and Sara Hulphers, accidentally jumped into a 178-degree pool. Hulphers, 20, died from third degree burns to her entire body, while Buchi and Montague, both 18 at the time of the incident, suffered severe burns to more than 90 percent of their bodies. The trio were Yellowstone employees.

Buchi sued the park service and U.S. Interior Department in June 2001, claiming that the agencies failed to properly warn them of the dangers associated with the high-temperature pools. In 2004, a Wyoming judge threw out the lawsuit alleging that the National Park Service was responsible for the life-threatening burns suffered by Buchi.

In 2006, a six-year-old boy suffered serious burns near Old Faithful when he slipped on a wet boardwalk and fell into the hot water. In 2012, a 37-year-old man suffered thermal burns during a hike on the Solitary Geyser Trail at Yellowstone in the Upper Geyser Basin near Old Faithful. He was transported to a burn center.