Watch CBS News

Creek Fire: National Guard Helicopter Crews Rescue 200+ Trapped Sierra Campers

FRESNO (CBS SF/AP) -- California National Guard helicopter crews frantically airlifted more than 200 people as a wall of flames from the fast-moving Creek Fire burning in the Sierra bore down on them.

RELATED: Sierra Wildfire Cuts Power Transmission Threatening Rolling Blackouts Sunday

The California Office of Emergency Services said Black Hawk and Chinook helicopters were used for the rescues that began late Saturday and continued through the overnight hours. At least two people were severely injured and 10 more suffered moderate injuries.

A National Guard spokesman said a Chinook helicopter had airlifted the first 50-60 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 emailed at 10:22 p.m. "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."

Social media posts from survivors displayed frightening scenes.

The wildfire, named the Creek Fire, started Friday and, by Saturday afternoon, exploded to 56 square miles, 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.

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 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.

Juliana Park recorded video of flames on both sides of her car as she and others fled down a mountain road.

"A backpacking trip cut short by unforeseen thunder, ash rain, and having to drive through literal fire to evacuate #SierraNationalForest in time," Park tweeted. "Grateful to the SNF ranger who led us down ... wish we got her name."

Lindsey Abbott and her family were guided to safety by a stranger they followed down from their campsite near Whisky Falls.

"It was so hot, you could feel the flames going through the window," she told KFSN-TV in Fresno.

Ashley Wagner was among those rescued, along with two relatives and a friend. They were trapped in Logan's Meadow behind Wagner's Store, a 63-year-old business run by her aunt that was destroyed.

"My family's history just went up in flames," Wagner told the news station.

Sierra Wildfire Sends Monster Smoke Plume Into Northern California, Nevada by KPIX CBS SF Bay Area on YouTube

The fire sent a huge smoke cloud visible from space. Forecasters from the National Weather Service said air quality in the Bay Area, already affected by recent wildfires, would be impacted. A Spare The Air alert has been declared through at least Labor Day on Monday.

The cause of the fire is under investigation.

© Copyright 2020 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report

View CBS News In
CBS News App Open
Chrome Safari Continue
Be the first to know
Get browser notifications for breaking news, live events, and exclusive reporting.