Hundreds of people narrowly escaped a fast-moving wildfire in Central California when rescue crews airlifted them to safety.
At least 224 people were rescued from the Mammoth Pool Reservoir area after the Creek Fire blocked the only road out of the popular recreation site, Madera County Sheriff Tyson Pogue said Sunday.
About 20 evacuees had injuries ranging from broken bones to burns. Two people had to be carried on a stretcher, Pogue said.
“The situation only can be described as just hellish conditions out there for those poor people,” the sheriff said.
Juliana Park was outside the Mammoth Pool Reservoir area when she had to flee in a car surrounded by flames. She posted video of the harrowing escape.
“A backpacking trip cut short by unforeseen thunder, ash rain, and having to drive through literal fire to evacuate #SierraNationalForest in time,” Park tweeted. “Grateful to the SNF ranger who led us down… wish we … got her name.”
The inferno quickly exploded in size since it started Friday evening in the Sierra National Forest, US Forest Service spokesman Dan Tune said.
It started in the forest south of Yosemite National Park and grew to 36,000 acres in just one day. The cause of the inferno is under investigation.
On Saturday, campers at the Mammoth Pool Reservoir were asked to shelter in place after the Creek Fire blocked the only way out of the area. The group at the lake received the warning from a helicopter’s public address system.
“Fire runs uphill, as does the road out,” Tune said. “We did not want to put campers attempting to caravan through an area where fire is likely.”
By Sunday morning, Pogue said he believed everyone had been rescued from the area. But officials plan to keep looking Sunday for others who might be stranded in the remote wilderness.
About 450 firefighters are battling the blaze, along with three helicopters and three air tankers, according to the Forest Service.
The conditions have made firefighting exceptionally challenging. There have been a few instances of limited visibility due to the smoke, but firefighters have been able to battle the blaze from the air, Tune said.
“The column on a fire like this can be quite dangerous,” he said. “So the aircraft has had to back off for a time, and go back again once conditions change.”
Another major challenge: the soaring heat in California this holiday weekend. Temperatures in the area are approaching 100 degrees, Tune said.
On top of that, “this is in a river canyon, so in the afternoon you get up-canyon winds,” Tune said. Sustained wind speeds are about 10 to 15 mph.
Fire crews have a grueling task ahead, as the Creek Fire is 0% contained.
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Source: Orange County Register