More than 200 people were airlifted to safety after being trapped by a fast-moving wildfire near a popular recreation area in northern California, officials said Sunday.
The evacuees climbed aboard military helicopters after the blaze, in bone-dry conditions, cut off ground escape routes from Mammoth Pool Reservoir in the Sierra National Forest, about 45 miles (70 kilometers) northeast of Fresno.
Flames moved in so fast that at one point people were advised to “shelter in place” — in the reservoir itself if need be.
“Simply extraordinary, lifesaving work by the @CalGuard airlifting more than 200 people to safety overnight from the imminent danger of the #CreekFire,” army General Daniel Hokanson, chief of the National Guard Bureau, said on Twitter.
– Serious injuries –
Twenty of the evacuees were transported to area hospitals, the Madera County Sheriff’s Office reported on Twitter. At least two were seriously injured, according to the Fresno Fire Department.
Hokanson tweeted a dramatic picture taken from the cockpit of a helicopter showing it surrounded by blazing trees.
He said dozens of those rescued had been brought to California National Guard facilities and were met by military medics and civilian first responders.
The Creek Fire, which started on Friday in steep and rugged terrain, has so far spread to 45,500 acres (18,400 hectares), according to the US Forest Service.
Making it one of the largest blazes burning during a particularly busy fire season in the state.
California has been baking, with record-breaking temperatures expected over the three-day Labor Day weekend, aggravating already dangerous fire conditions and further stressing exhausted firefighters.
Much of the state was suffering under scorching temperatures on Sunday — 110 degrees Fahrenheit (43 Celsius) in Los Angeles — further fueling the raging wildfires.
The high temperatures come as the state is recovering from another heatwave in mid-August and devastating wildfires that have burned some 1.5 million acres in the last three weeks, destroying hundreds of structures and forcing tens of thousands of Californians to evacuate.