SHAVER LAKE (AP) – Rescuers in military helicopters airlifted 207 people to safety over the weekend after an explosive wildfire trapped them in a popular camping area in California’s Sierra National Forest, one of dozens of fires burning amid record-breaking temperatures that strained the state’s electrical grid and for a time threatened power outages for millions.
The California Office of Emergency Services said Black Hawk and Chinook helicopters were used for the rescues that began late Saturday and continued into Sunday morning at Mammoth Pool Reservoir.
At least two people were severely injured and 10 more suffered moderate injuries.
Two campers refused rescue and stayed behind, the Madera County Sheriff’s Office said, and there was no immediate word on their fates.
A photo tweeted by the California National Guard showed more than 20 evacuees packed tightly inside one helicopter, some crouched on the floor clutching their belongings.
In another photo taken on the ground from a helicopter cockpit, the densely wooded hills surrounding the aircraft were in flames.
The blaze dubbed the Creek Fire has charred more than 184 square kilometres of timber, and the 800 firefighters on the scene had yet to get any containment after two days of work on steep terrain in sweltering heat.
Some homes and businesses have burned, but there was no official tabulation yet.
Other blazes broke out in Southern California and forced evacuations in San Diego and San Bernardino counties.
The California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, or Cal Fire, said the latter blaze, called the El Dorado Fire, started last Saturday morning and was caused by a smoke-generating pyrotechnic device, used during a gender-reveal party.
The Creek Fire churned southward from the reservoir through miles of dense forest and by Sunday afternoon threatened a marina and cabins along Shaver Lake, where Jack Machado helped friends remove propane tanks from the lodge Cottages at the Point.
Sheriff’s deputies went through the town of several hundred residents to make sure people complied with evacuation orders.
“The lake is totally engulfed with smoke. You can’t hardly see in front of you,” Machado said. “The sky’s turning red. It looks like Mars out there.”
Temperatures in the fire zone were in the 90s, but that was cool compared to many parts of the state. Downtown Los Angeles reached 44 degrees Celsius.