Dramatic nighttime airlift rescues scores of people trapped by Creek fire at Mammoth Pool

Scores of campers trapped by the massive Sierra fire were airlifted overnight from the Mammoth Pool recreation area in Fresno County, where some were injured when the blaze swept through the area.

The rescue capped a dangerous day as huge fires broke out in the Sierra as well as in San Bernardino and San Diego counties and much of the state endured historic heat that continued Sunday.

As Sunday dawned, temperatures were expected to climb even higher. The forecast predicted 119 degrees in Woodland Hills, 114 in Pasadena and 110 in Simi Valley, said David Sweet, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Oxnard.

Helicopters transported victims from the site to Fresno Yosemite International Airport, where medical teams were waiting to treat them and take then to local hospitals and burn units.

The total number of patients remained unclear. The Fresno Fire Department said at least two people had been severely injured, 10 had more moderate injuries, and more than 50 had minor or no injuries. But a full accounting of the injuries remains unclear.

The California National Guard posted dramatic images of helicopters landing at Mammoth Pool, which appears to be hit hard by the fire. One photo showed a guard vehicle driving down a road with fire on both sides of it.

The Creek fire started about 6:45 p.m. Friday in the Big Creek drainage near Shaver Lake, Big Creek and Huntington Lake.

It exploded to more than 36,000 acres, and the fire swept into the Mammoth Pool area, where Labor Day weekend visitors were enjoying a day of recreation.

Sierra National Forest spokesman Dan Tune said those trapped in the reservoir area were not in imminent danger since the fire front had moved past them and was headed north. But people were advised to shelter in place while strike teams tried to clear evacuation routes and contain the fast-moving flames.

The fire was also threatening a number of structures and power lines.

"The priority right now is community and life safety," Tune said.

Later Saturday afternoon, evacuation orders were issued for the Kinsman Flat area in North Fork, the Madera County Sheriff's Office said. Deputies were going door to door notifying residents of the danger. The Rock Creek and Fish Creek campgrounds also were being evacuated, officials said.

In total, about 2,000 structures were threatened, authorities said.

Near Yucaipa, another fire had burned more than 1,500 acres and forced evacuations in numerous mountainside communities in San Bernardino County. Dubbed the , the blaze began about 10:30 a.m. in the 37000 block of Oak Glen Road, spurring the evacuation of Oak Glen, Forest Falls, Mountain Home Village and parts of eastern Yucaipa.

The blaze also closed a portion of the San Gorgonio Wilderness, according to San Bernardino National Forest officials.

In San Diego County, a 1,500-acre fire in the rural Japatul Valley area threatened homes and forced evacuations.

The fire was first reported shortly after 2:50 p.m. off Spirit Trail and Japatul Road in the Japatul Valley area southeast of Alpine and quickly spread. Multiple engines from the California Department of Forestry were dispatched, as were helicopters and air tankers. By 6 p.m., the fire was moving west toward Lawson Valley. At 8 p.m., it was still burning with zero percent containment.

Cal Fire had confirmed to several TV news outlets that some structures had burned but did not specify how many.

The National Weather Service has issued a red-flag warning, which indicates critical fire weather conditions, for the valleys and mountains of Southern California that will be in effect from 6 p.m. Sunday to 10 p.m. Monday, Sweet said.

In Santa Barbara County, a red-flag warning is in effect for the mountains and South Coast from 6 p.m. Saturday through 10 p.m. Monday because of the heat, low humidity and gusty "sundowner" winds, forecasters said.

The heat wave brought new records across Southern California.

In Woodland Hills, the mercury climbed to 117 degrees by 3 p.m. Saturday, making it the hottest day ever recorded there in September, breaking the record of 115 set in 1979. Burbank reached 113, tying its monthly record set in 1971. Van Nuys hit 115.

The mercury soared even higher to the east, with Palm Springs hitting 122 and Indio 121. Officials said at least three areas tied or topped all-time record highs: Alpine (113), El Cajon (114) and Idyllwild (103). The weather service said Burbank appeared to tie an all-time record at 114 degrees.


(c)2020 the Los Angeles Times

Visit the Los Angeles Times at

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

Our Network

The Press Democrat
Sonoma Index-Tribune
Petaluma Argus Courier
North Bay Business Journal
Sonoma Magazine
Bite Club Eats
La Prensa Sonoma
Sonoma County Gazette