Helicopters rescue 200 trapped by fast-moving Creek Fire in Sierra National Forest

06 September 2020

Published by https://www.sfchronicle.com

USA – A highly dangerous wildfire that ignited in Sierra National Forest Friday evening exploded to 45,500 acres by Sunday. It trapped a number of people near a Fresno County reservoir on Saturday and injured potentially dozens, before helicopters airlifted 200 people to safety on Saturday night.

The Creek Fire — burning near Shaver Lake, Huntington Lake and Big Creek — is 0% contained and tearing through the rugged, forested foothills of eastern Fresno County. Its plume soared to over 50,000 feet, shockingly visible to passing planes.

Shortly before 10:30 p.m. Saturday, Fresno fire officials said 63 people had been rescued by military helicopters and taken to the Fresno Yosemite International Airport. Two of those rescued were “severely injured,” 10 were “moderately injured,” and 51 sustained minor or no injuries, Fresno fire officials said.

“I’m not aware any wildfire-related emergency evacuation airlift anywhere approaching this scale in the United States. Incredible, “ UCLA climate scientist Daniel Swain tweeted Sunday, adding: “And very lucky this was an option. Meteorological conditions during this airlift must have been extremely dicey.”

The first group of people was rescued from the Mammoth Pool reservoir area, said Capt. Jason Sanchez, a public affairs officer for the California National Guard. Evacuees were triaged at the airport, and some were taken to Saint Agnes Medical Center and Community Regional Medical Center in Fresno and Clovis Community Medical Center for treatment. For evacuees who were not injured, Sanchez said Army personnel were working to find lodging for them.

Sanchez — who was at the Fresno airport on Saturday night — told The Chronicle that multiple emergency crews were waiting for more evacuees at the airport. Firefighters and paramedics were on standby, as well as Army and air crews with the National Guard, and county emergency personnel.

“We’re all here, we’re all integrated (and) working together to help the evacuees, and to triage any medical need,” Sanchez said. “It’s quite an impressive sight to see here. For the first group of evacuees to arrive, it was all clockwork. Efficient.”

More helicopters went back for others trapped at Mammoth Pool.

On Sunday, the Madera County Sheriff’s Office advised people in the Bass Lake and North Fork areas to evacuate ahead of a warning.

Around 9 p.m. Saturday, deputies were going door to door evacuating residents from Beasore Meadows — also threatened by the Creek Fire. “Please do not wait for notification to evacuate if you do not feel safe,” the Sheriff’s Office said in a tweet.

As temperatures soar in a record-breaking heat wave, the wildfire’s spread has proven explosive, defying efforts to contain it. Smoke from the fire could be seen from airplanes.

The 1.3-million-acre Sierra National Forest spans the western slope of the Sierra Nevada and is bounded by Yosemite National Park to the northwest and Kings Canyon National Park to the south. For Labor Day Weekend, it was filled with those celebrating the holiday.

In photos posted on Twitter by Fresno’s Fox 26 News, large recreational vehicles and trucks congregated in a dirt field near Mammoth Pool Reservoir as the fire burned around them, torching pines and sending puffs and gray-brown smoke into the air. Embers streaked through the air like comets.

Daniel Swain, a climate scientist at UCLA, said in a tweet that a “massive pyrocumulus cloud [is] indicative of extreme fire behavior, & pyrotornado may have occurred” on the Creek Fire.

The Rock Creek and Fish Creek campgrounds have been evacuated, along with the Kinsman Flat and Arnold Meadows subdivisions, Cascadel Woods, Mammoth Pool, Whiskey Falls, Clover Meadow and Minarets.

The Creek Fire is one of several new wildfires that were burning in California as of Saturday evening, along with the 1,500-acre Valley Fire in San Diego County and the 3,000-acre El Dorado Fire in San Bernardino County.

The cause of the Creek Fire remains under investigation.

Lizzie Johnson and Lauren Hernández are San Francisco Chronicle staff writers. Email: ljohnson@sfchronicle.com and lauren.hernandez@sfchronicle.com Twitter: @LizzieJohnsonnn @ByLHernandez

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