HELICOPTERS swooped in to rescue more than 200 people from a burning inferno at Mammoth Pool Reservoir, near Fresno, California, after a fire started on late Saturday and continued overnight on the Labor Day weekend.
California National Guard helicopter crews airlifted hordes of campers as flames from the swiftly developing Creek Fire, which is currently burning through the Sierras, and blocked the only route of escape.
A National Guard spokesman said a Chinook helicopter had airlifted the first 50 to 60 evacuees to Fresno Airport, “some of which have been injured by the flames of the fire.”
“A Blackhawk helicopter is also involved in the rescue,” Lt. Col. Jonathan Shiroma told CBS Local. “At the airport, emergency response, fire and medical elements from the 144th Fighter Wing are on hand to assist.
"Both rotary wings are returning to the fire site to evacuate more people immediately.”
Imagery and footage from the scene showed apocalyptic scenes of thunder, ash rain and red skies.
“We’re in the truck. The air is so black, we can’t open our eyes without it burning,” Allyson Chance, 14, and her sister, Lily, 16, texted their stepmother as they waited to be rescued, local TV station KMPH reported.
Helicopters evacuated 207 people, two people opted to stay behind and refused evacuation, and 20 were hospitalized with severe injuries, including burns, broken burns, cuts and breathing difficulties.
The wildfire is burning across 45,000 acres, jumped a river and cut off the only road into – and out – of Mammoth Pool Campground, according to national forest spokesman Dan Tune.
Campers were told to jump into the reservoir if necessary to protect themselves from the flames.
“Once the fire gets going, it creates its own weather, adding wind to increase the spread,” Tune said.
The lake is 35 miles northeast of Fresno, surrounded by pine forests.
“Adjust your Labor Day weekend plans. Access to Shaver Lake is completely closed to the public due to the #CreekFire,” the Fresno County sheriff’s office tweeted.
Temperatures across the state reached triple figures as the Labor Day weekend heatwave exacerbated the wildfires.
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