At least 63 people trapped in a rapidly spreading wildfire near Mammoth Pool Reservoir in central California in the Sierra National Forest had been rescued by the Air National Guard by late Saturday, Fresno Fire confirmed.
Helicopter rescues included two with serious injuries and ten with minor injuries, the department said in a tweet.
Overall, the rescuers planned an air and ground evacuation of about 150 people who were stuck at the boat launch of the reservoir, said the Madera County Sheriff’s Office.
Dan Lynch, director of the Fresno County Department of Health, said the FOX 26 rescuers were being brought back during the night to move more evacuees, but he was unsure of the exact number.
The rescued were taken from Fresno Yosemite International Airport to an Air National Guard helicopter maintenance base, FOX 26 reported in Fresno.
Another 1,000 people were reportedly trapped at the campsite but did not need immediate rescue.
Authorities have issued evacuation orders across the region.
Forest spokesman Dan Tune said prisoners were told to protect themselves on site – even if it meant jumping into the water – after the only road out of the campsite was compromised, according to Fresno Bee.
“Our main focus is on the safety of all people in the whole forest,” said Tune. “Just make sure people are safe and evacuated.”
CALIFORNIA GIVES EXCESSIVE HEAT WARNING WITH POSSIBLE BLACKS AT RECORDING HIGH TEMPERATURES
Dan Lynch, director of the Fresno District Department of Health, told the station that the plane that rescued the group would be returning to the area to pick up more stranded people.
“Everyone is safe at this point,” the department tweeted around 7:30 p.m. PT.
The Creek Fire had exploded to 36,000 acres without containment by Saturday night when temperatures hit triple digits amid a weekend heatwave that hit much of the state, according to Bee.
Firefighters will attempt to access the area using water repellent aircraft, Tune said.
“All of our resources are working to make this escape route beautiful and safe for them,” he added.
According to Tune, a command post is to be set up at Sierra High School in Tollhouse, California.
The Fresno County Sheriff tweeted that Shaver Lake was closed to the public due to the fire and under evacuation orders. The California Highway Patrol has closed State Route 168 to only allow rescue workers and evacuees access.
“Once the fire starts, it creates its own weather and adds wind to increase spread,” said Tune.
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According to Cal Fire, nearly 12,500 firefighters fought 22 major fires in the state caused by hot temperatures and dry weather.
There have been 900 forest fires in California since August 15, many of which were triggered by an intense series of thousands of lightning strikes. The flames burned more than 1.5 million acres (2,343 square miles). There were eight fire deaths and nearly 3,300 buildings destroyed.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.