Hundreds airlifted as California wildfire traps visitors in national park

More than 200 people were airlifted to safety after a fast-moving wildfire cut off the only road out of the Mammoth Pool Reservoir, a popular recreational site in Sierra National Forest in the US state of California.

Twenty evacuees were taken to area hospitals, the Madera County Sheriff said on Twitter, as the Creek Fire that started on Friday night local time rapidly grew to burn some 14,500 hectares, forcing evacuations and road closures in the Fresno area in central California.

As of Sunday morning local time, nearly 15,000 firefighters were battling 23 fires across the state, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.

People sitting inside a dark room, some with goggles and face masks on
Dozens of evacuees were flown to safety on a California Coast Guard helicopter after the Creek Fire in central California left them stranded.(AP: California National Guard)

Three major fires, including the Creek Fire, were burning in Fresno, San Bernardino and San Diego counties, the agency said in a statement, adding it had increased staffing in preparation for “critical fire weather.”

A dangerous heat wave was baking swathes of the western United States through the weekend, and many locations in California registered record-high temperatures.


‘Sweltering heat’ to continue

Eight people have died in the fires so far and nearly 3,300 structures have been destroyed.

The National Weather Service warned that “sweltering” heat would continue, with temperatures of up to 50 degrees Celsius, gusty winds and low humidity creating ideal conditions for further wildfires.

“Since the lightning siege that started on Saturday, August 15, 2020, there have been nearly 14,000 lightning strikes,” the state’s fire authority Cal Fire said.

Authorities urged residents to turn off appliances and lights to help avoid blackouts from an overwhelmed power grid.

People in swimming costumes looking at smoke from a lakeside
Dozens of people were stranded by the fires in California’s national parks.(AP: Eric Paul Zamora)

It comes after the Governor of California requested assistance from Australian firefighters to help contain the ongoing blazes across the state.

Californian authorities are also battling the COVID-19 pandemic, with the state accounting for the highest number of infections in the country.

Medical experts warned that the coronavirus pandemic has heightened the health hazards posed by smoky air and extreme heat, especially for older adults and those already suffering from respiratory illnesses.