A massive rescue operation, involving Black Hawk and Chinook helicopters, airlifted more than 200 people to safety after the fast-moving Creek Fire trapped them in a popular camping area in California's Sierra National Forest. 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.
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.
Dozens of evacuees are evacuated to safety on a Cal Guard Chinook last night after the Creek Fire in central California left them stranded. Photo courtesy California National Guard. pic.twitter.com/mi7X6wchpN— The California National Guard (@CalGuard) September 6, 2020
Our sister station KFSN-TV interviewed Jeremy Remington, who went camping with his family at the Mammoth Pool Reservoir this weekend. He said they were fetching ice from their boat and "30 minutes later, the fire completely engulfed everything."
"All around us. Had to put the water with the shirts to breathe. There was no warning. Literally, we could see smoke, but they said it was 22 miles away. It was literally like, 'Oh my god, there's fire right there' ... I mean, we just hauled," he said.
Remington, like dozens of other campers, were trapped for because the fire cut off the roads leading out of the area.
He was cut off from his family, who had been hauled away by authorities, but luckily Chinook helicopters airlifted Remington, his mother, niece and sister-in-law to safety.
"Thank god they rescued us. It was absolutely crazy intense ... Thank god. Saved our families. Thank god for the military," he said.
Morgan Kemple, who also spoke to KFSN, said she was out of harm's way, but her two daughters and 11 other family members were trapped.
"My sister called and said she looked up and they were playing in the creek and she saw flames, so they ran to camp and gathered up as much as they could and then it all burned over real fast," she said.
In 2016, Kemple lost her husband in a wildfire. She said she couldn't imagine losing her daughters too.
"I'm going to hug them like nobody's business," she said.
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 said.
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 said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.