SHAVER LAKE, Calif. (NewsNation Now) — More than 200 people were airlifted to safety early Sunday after a fast-moving wildfire trapped them in a popular camping area in California’s Sierra National Forest, one of several fires that broke out amid record-breaking, triple-digit temperatures that baked the state.
The California Office of Emergency Services said Black Hawk and Chinook helicopters were used for the rescues that began late Saturday and continued overnight. At least two people were severely injured and 10 more suffered moderate injuries.
A photo tweeted by the National Guard showed at least 20 evacuees crammed inside one helicopter, crouched on the floor clutching their belongings. In another photo taken on the ground from the cockpit, the densely wooded hills surrounding the aircraft were in flames.
The wildfire, named the Creek Fire, started Friday and by Saturday afternoon exploded to 45,500 acres, jumped the San Joaquin River and cut off the only road into the Mammoth Pool Campground, national forest spokesman Dan Tune said. At least 2,000 structures were threatened in the area about 290 miles (467 kilometers) north of Los Angeles, where temperatures in the San Fernando Valley reached 117 degrees (47 Celsius).
Tune said the campers were told to shelter in place until fire crews, aided by water-dropping aircraft, could gain access to the site.
The lake 35 miles (56 kilometers) northeast of Fresno is surrounded by thick pine forests and is a popular destination for boating and fishing. Bone-dry conditions and the hot weather fueled the flames.
“Once the fire gets going, it creates its own weather, adding wind to increase the spread,” Tune said.
In Southern California, a fire in the foothills of Yucaipa east of Los Angeles prompted evacuation orders for eastern portions of the city of 54,000 along with several mountain communities. The California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, known as Cal Fire, said the fire scorched at least 7,050 acres of brush and trees.
The blaze was just 5% contained Sunday afternoon.
In eastern San Diego County, the Valley Fire broke out Saturday afternoon and fire officials warned the blaze was burning at a “dangerous rate of speed.” By Sunday morning it had destroyed at least 10 structures after burning 4,000 acres and prompting evacuations near the remote community of Alpine in the Cleveland National Forest. There was no containment.
Cal Fire said nearly 12,500 firefighters were battling 22 major fires in the state. Despite the heat, firefighters were able to contain two major fires in coastal Monterey County.
California has seen 900 wildfires since Aug. 15, many of them started by an intense series of thousands of lightning strikes. The blazes have burned more than 1.5 million acres (2,343 square miles). There have been eight fire deaths and nearly 3,300 structures destroyed.
The heat wave was expected to spread triple-digit temperatures over much of California through Monday. Officials urged people to conserve electricity to ease the strain on the state’s power grid.
Officials urged people to conserve electricity to ease the strain on the state’s power grid and avoid rolling blackouts.
“These outages were avoided Friday and Saturday due in large part to individual conservation efforts, but even more conservation efforts are needed today,” Gov. Gavin Newsom’s office said in a statement Sunday.
The Creek Fire forced the closure of a 915-megawatt hydropower station in Madera County, further constraining grid resources, the statement said.
Pacific Gas & Electric, the state’s largest utility, warned customers Saturday that it might cut power starting Tuesday because of expected high winds and heat that could create even greater fire danger. Some of the state’s largest and deadliest fires in recent years have been sparked by downed power lines and other utility equipment.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.