Nearly 150 people have been airlifted to safety and at least 65 remain stranded after being trapped by one of the two dozen wildfires that have torched a record two million acres in California.
Firefighters and the National Guard used helicopters equipped with night vision on a dangerous mission to rescue dozens of people stranded in the Sierra National Forest by the Creek Fire on Tuesday morning, hours after their first attempt was thwarted by heavy smoke and towering flames.
Col David Hall of the Army National Guard said search teams dispatched Chinook and Black Hawk helicopters from four different locations in Fresno County and managed to carry 148 people to safety.
Video showed weary hikers stepping off a Chinook chopper at the Fresno Yosemite International Airport with camping gear in tow after 46 people and four dogs were rescued from Lake Edison. One of the hikers offered applause to the National Guard members who carried out the mission.
At least 65 more hikers and campers are believed to be trapped near Chinese Peak and Lake Edison as the rescue efforts continue.
‘We’re going to keep working tirelessly throughout the night until we get as many people out as we can,’ Hall told NBC News.
Officials said that one hiker had been confirmed dead from an apparent heart attack and warned there may be multiple more casualties.
The frantic rescue attempt came as wildfires blazed across swathes of the western United States – including Washington, Utah Colorado and Oregon – on Monday night, destroying homes and devastating forests and grasslands, as record high temperatures and strong winds made the task of fire fighters even more challenging.
In California, 14,100 fire fighters were battling 25 separate blazes, which have collectively burned more than two million acres and left 172,000 people without power during a record heat wave in the drought-stricken state.
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Video showed weary hikers stepping off a Chinook chopper at the Fresno Yosemite International Airport with camping gear in tow after 46 people and four dogs were rescued from Lake Edison on Tuesday
The hikers streamed off the helicopter carrying camping gear. At least 65 more hikers and campers are believed to be trapped near Chinese Peak and Lake Edison as the rescue efforts continue
Twenty-five separate blazes across California have collectively burned more than two million acres and left 172,000 people without power during a record heat wave in the drought-stricken state. Pictured: The Creek Fire on Tuesday
California’s largest utility Pacific Gas and Electric has cut off power to 172,000 customers to avoid creating additional blazes. Pictured: Workers stand along Highway 168 as the Creek Fire advances on Tuesday
A scorched truck rests on Highway 168 after the Creek Fire burned through the area on Tuesday
A melted slide stands in the playground at the Pine Ridge School in Fresno County after the Creek Fire tore through Tuesday
Wildfires are blazing across swathes of the western United States, from California and Washington to Colorado
The Creek Fire has consumed at least 143,929 acres since the sparks were first lit on Friday evening
In California 14,100 fire fighters are battling 25 separate blazes, which have collectively destroyed two million acres
On the southern end of the state, Los Angeles County set an all-time temperature record of 121 degrees on Sunday, during a historic Labor Day weekend heat wave.
The all-time county record was set at Pierce College in Woodland Hills, a suburb of LA.
In the nearby Santa Monica Mountains, a 41-year-old woman died after hiking in extreme 110 degree heat on Saturday.
In Washington state, a small town of 300 people saw 80 percent of the homes destroyed.
And in Oregon and Idaho, fires close to power lines shut off the electricity, adding to the misery amid the heatwave.
Fresno Fire Department said on Monday evening that they had been unable to rescue the trapped hikers
California Governor Gavin Newsom on Sunday night declared a state of emergency as his hard-hit state struggled to beat back the blazes.
The Labor Day weekend heat wave fueled new fires that pushed the state to set a new record for number of acres burned with more than two million as of Monday.
The previous record was set just two years ago and included the deadliest fire in state history, the Camp Fire, which ripped through the town of Paradise and killed 85 people in November 2018.
Cal Fire spokeswoman Lynne Tolmachoff said the new record was especially alarming because of how early in the year it was set.
‘It’s a little unnerving because September and October are historically our worst months for fires,’ Tolmachoff told AP. ‘It’s usually hot, and the fuels really dry out. And we see more of our wind events.’
California’s largest utility shuts off power to 172,000 customers
Pacific Gas & Electric, California’s largest utility, has turned off power for 172,000 customers in an effort to avoid adding to the fires already ravaging the state.
The utility company is on high alert after its power lines started the deadliest fire in state history two years ago, when the Camp Fire ripped through Paradise, killing 85 people.
Liability from billions of dollars in claims from that and other fires forced PG&E to seek bankruptcy protection.
To guard against new wildfires and new liability, PG&E last year began preemptive power shutoffs when conditions are exceptionally dangerous.
That’s the situation now in Northern California, where high and dry winds are expected until Wednesday.
PG&E received criticism for its handling of planned outages last year. The utility said it has learned from past problems, ‘and this year will be making events smaller in size, shorter in length and smarter for customers’.
California has seen 900 wildfires since August 15, many of them started by an intense series of thousands of lightning strikes in mid-August. There have been eight fire deaths and more than 3,300 structures destroyed.
Randy Moore, regional forester for the Forest Service’s Pacific Southwest Region, warned that the blazes are expected to worsen in the coming days.
‘The wildfire situation throughout California is dangerous and must be taken seriously,’ Moore told AP. ‘Existing fires are displaying extreme fire behavior, new fire starts are likely, weather conditions are worsening, and we simply do not have enough resources to fully fight and contain every fire.’
Among the most devastating fires was one in northern California, caused by lightning, which was burning through Napa, Sonoma, Lake, Yolo and Solano counties.
The LNU Lightning Complex began on August 17 and has so far burnt 375,209 acres, killing four people. The fire is now 91 percent contained.
As that complex is brought under control, another inferno to the southwest is quickly gaining speed.
The Creek Fire was first sparked on Friday evening and quickly exploded to 143,929 acres as of mid-day Tuesday.
That fire is currently zero percent contained and is being fought by almost 1,000 firefighters as it encroaches on the communities of Shaver Lake, Big Creek and Huntington Lake.
In addition to the Lake Edison campers, the Creek Fire trapped another 214 people over the weekend, who had to be rescued by helicopter after the roads were blocked.
Beginning on Saturday night and continuing through Sunday morning, a Black Hawk helicopter and a large Chinook helicopter flew the 214 people to the National Guard base at the Fresno Yosemite International Airport.
The two aircraft conducted three lifts from the Mammoth Pool Reservoir along the Fresno/Madera County border, the National Guard said.
Once at the base, emergency medical workers helped triage and take the injured to local hospitals, including Community Regional Medical Center (CRMC).
Twenty of them were to nearby hospitals and six are in CRMC’s burn unit, EMS officials told Action News.
In Yosemite National Park, officials said evacuation orders could be issued soon as the Creek Fire drew near, casting an apocalyptic orange haze over the idyllic landscape.
The Creek Fire cast an apocalyptic orange haze over Yosemite National Park, which is under threat of evacuation
Firefighters Nick Grinstead and Trevor While battle the Creek Fire in the Shaver Lake community of Fresno County on Monday
Some outdoor shelters near Shaver Lake were engulfed with flames (pictured) as authorities ordered people to evacuate
The Creek Fire burns along a hillside in the Cascadel Woods community of Madera County on Monday
The Creek Fire also claimed at least two dozen homes in the small mountain town of Big Creek, a fire official said on Monday.
Chris Donnelly, the longtime chief of the volunteer fire department in the nearby town of Huntington Lake, said three propane tanks totaling 11,000 gallons exploded, and an elementary school also caught fire – although it wasn’t clear whether it burned.
The school’s superintendent, Toby Wait, told The Fresno Bee that a church, a library and a historic general store appear to have survived the fire, although Wait’s home burned after his family was evacuated early Saturday.
‘Words cannot even begin to describe the devastation of this community,’ he told the newspaper.
Jim Smart is among thousands of people to be evacuated from their homes as wildfires rage across the western U.S.
A father and his son look at a fire truck as they wait to be evacuated from the Creek Fire on Monday
Firefighters, pictured on Monday, have been working around the clock to put out the Creek Fire in northern California
Seth Sandstrom rushes to repair a dock that separated as the Creek Fire approaches the Sierra Marina with 430 boats docked
Firefighters walk through the site near Shaver Lake as they continue to battle against the Creek Fire which started on Friday
The Creek Fire (pictured) is currently blazing across the Sierra National Forest, 250 miles east from San Francisco
The Creek Fire has rapidly increased in size, and is currently being fought by 800 fire fighters from across the region
Residents evacuate with their pets during the Creek fire in the North Fork area of unincorporated Madera County on Monday
Annette Smart (R) and her granddaughter Malina Sandoval, 10, check on their animals while evacuating during the Creek Fire
Woman dies after hiking in extreme heat in Santa Monica Mountains
A 41-year-old woman died on Saturday after she went for a hike in the Santa Monica Mountains near Calabasas as temperatures climbed above 110 degrees.
The woman, who has not been identified, began to feel sick while out on a trail in Malibu Creek State Park with a friend, according to the LA County Sheriff’s Department.
The pair turned around and headed back to their car, but the woman collapsed before she reached it.
Paramedics arrived and conducted CPR on the woman for about 20 to 30 minutes but were unable to resuscitate her.
Deputy Morgan Arteaga said the woman’s death was likely caused by the heat and ‘natural causes of some kind’. An autopsy is underway to determine the official cause.
On Sunday, the California Department of Parks and Recreation closed all Santa Monica Mountains hiking trails through 5pm Monday due to the heat.
In southern California, the El Dorado wildfire was sparked on Saturday by a gender reveal photoshoot, when the pyrotechnical smoke device sent sparks into the bone-dry brush.
The fire has burned 10,574 acres so far, and is only 16 percent contained.
More than 520 firefighters are involved in attempts to stop the spread of the fire, near San Bernardino.
The fire started on Saturday at 10.23am, the authorities said, and 527 people from 10 fire crews are currently trying to halt the fire’s progress.
It spread from the El Dorado Ranch Park north, onto the Yucaipa Ridge. The ridge separates Mountain Home Village and Forest Falls from the City of Yucaipa.
Bennet Milloy, spokesman for the department, told DailyMail.com that the people hosting the party were still on the scene when the firefighters arrived.
‘We know how it started because they were still there,’ he said. ‘That, and the fact that there were surveillance cameras in the park.’
Milloy said that it was a relatively small family gathering, and that the relatives had gathered for a photo opportunity.
He did not know if they were local people, but he said they were potentially both civilly and criminally responsible for the fire – facing jail time and a massive fine. The family could be held responsible for the entire cost of putting the fire out, amounting to many millions of dollars, he said.
The civil costs were deemed ‘suppression costs’ – the charges associated with hundreds of fire fighters, engines, helicopters and planes.
The criminal charges could fall under ‘a variety of charges’, he said – which would be more severe if homes were destroyed. The family could be hit with violations of public resources codes and even arson, under California’s penal code section 452. Arson convictions can result in a sentence of up to nine years.
Asked if the family realized the seriousness of their predicament, Milloy said: ‘They understood the seriousness of the fire.
‘They genuinely believed it was an accident. But I think now they understand the gravity of the situation.’
He did not have their names, but said they would be released if charges were pressed.
The fire spread rapidly north from where it started at the El Dorado Ranch Park north, onto the Yucaipa Ridge
The wildfire is pictured moving up the hillsides of San Bernardino National Forest on Sunday
The fire spread from the El Dorado Ranch Park north, onto the Yucaipa Ridge and into the San Bernardino National Forest
Satellite images on Saturday gave a sense of the scale of the El Dorado fire, which was started by a gender reveal photoshoot
A firefighter monitors the El Dorado Fire as it burns a hillside near Yucaipa on Monday
Firefighters stop along Oak Glen Road while working the El Dorado Fire in southern California on Monday
Roads are block at Bryant St. and CA Hwy. 138 near Yucaipa, as the El Dorado Fire entered its third day on Monday
Fire officials have confirmed that the El Dorado wildfire was started by a gender reveal photoshoot on Saturday morning
The El Dorado Fire burns a hillside near Yucaipa in the San Bernardino National Forest on Monday
Residents watch as the El Dorado Fire burns a hillside near Yucaipa in the San Bernardino National Forest on Monday
A fire retardant-sprayed house sits below the burn scar of the El Dorado Fire near Yucaipa on Monday
In southern California, near San Diego, the Valley Fire (pictured) begun on Saturday afternoon and has spread rapidly
North of California, in Washington state, the town of Malden was almost entirely destroyed.
Whitman County Sheriff Brett Myers said that 70-80 percent of homes in the town of 300 people have gone up in flames.
Local news network KREM showed pictured of the charred Malden post office, a fire still burning inside the gutted building.
Larry Frick, who lives in Malden, told KXLY that he spent three hours to save his house amid the flames.
‘It’s gone, brother,’ he texted his sibling after the fire swept through.
‘The entire town is gone. Everything from here to Pine City is gone. The scariest time of my life.’
KREM said that at least nine wildfires were burning throughout the Inland Northwest on Monday, amid dry and windy conditions.
Houses are pictured going up in flames in Malden, Washington, on Sunday as wildfires destroy parts of the northwest
Washington’s wildfires had also spread to neighboring Idaho.
Evacuations were being ordered around the town of Blanchard, as a result of the Hunters Fire.
Adding to the misery, more than 60,000 electric customers in Idaho, Oregon and Washington were without power on Monday afternoon, as high winds blew over trees, snapping power lines.
The downed electricity lines further added to fears of wildfires.
Nearly 100,000 people in the Portland, Oregon area were without power on Monday night as gusts approaching 50 mph toppled trees and power lines, according to The Oregonian.
Portland General Electric (PGE) reported that 40,000 in the city of Portland were without power; plus nearly 30,000 customers in Clackamas County; 18,000 in Washington County; and 6,000 in Multnomah County.
In the Mount Hood area of Oregon, 5,000 people had their electricity cut pre-emptively – an unprecedented move for PGE.
In Colorado, the capital city, Denver, was cloaked in smoke from the Cameron Peak Fire, which began on August 13 and has so far burned 96,462 acres.
The state has 829 people battling to contain the fire, but evacuations have been ordered.
The Cameron Peak Fire is burning strongly through the timbers around Fort Collins, and officials do not expect it to be fully extinguished until Halloween.
And in Utah, homes were being evacuated on Monday as a wildfire near Mapleton and Springville spread quickly due to strong winds.
The Ether Hollow Fire was sparked by target shooters, state wildfire officials have determined.
It began shortly before 6.30pm on Monday and is currently estimated at 500 acres.
The wind was preventing aerial firefighting resources from flying in the area.
The town of Mapleton in Utah was evacuated on Monday as the wildfires spread across the surrounding hills
Firefighters in Mapleton, Utah, were having their task complicated on Monday by strong winds
Smoke envelopes the downtown Denver skyline as winds carry the smoky air from the Cameron Peak Fire in Colorado
The Cameron Peak Fire, west of Fort Collins in Colorado, is now one of the largest wildfires in the state’s history
Californian wildfires obscure the sun in Las Vegas, Nevada, on Monday evening
The sun is seen behind smoke from the Bobcat Fire in the Angeles National Forest above Duarte, California, on Monday