SHAVER LAKE, Calif. (Ben Caxton) – Three fast-spreading California wildfires sent people fleeing Saturday, with one trapping campers at a reservoir in the Sierra National Forest, as a brutal heat wave pushed temperatures into triple digits in many parts of state.
The wildfire burning near Shaver Lake exploded to 56 square miles (145 square kilometers), jumped a river and compromised the only road into the Mammoth Pool Campground, national forest spokesman Dan Tune said. At least 2,000 structures were threatened in the area about 290 miles (467 kilometers) north of Los Angeles, where temperatures in the city’s San Fernando Valley reached 117 degrees (47 degrees Celsius).
The Fresno Fire Department tweeted late Saturday night that 63 people were rescued from the campground by military helicopters and that two of them were severely injured, 10 were moderately injured and 51 others had minor or no injuries.
“Aircraft are returning to continue rescue operations,” the agency wrote. “Unknown how many more.”
The Madera County Sheriff’s Department said in a tweet earlier Saturday that about 150 people were at the campground’s boat launch, and 10 of them were injured. “All are safe at this time,” the department tweeted.
Officers also were evacuating Beasore Meadows, a large ranch in the Sierra National Forest, on Saturday night, the department tweeted.
Agencies were coordinating an aircraft rescue for crews to safely evacuate them, The Fresno Bee reported.
Tune said the campers were told to shelter in place until fire crews, aided by water-dropping aircraft, could gain access to the site. Tune said he didn’t know how close the fire was burning to the campsite.
“All our resources are working to make that escape route nice and safe for them,” he said.
The lake 35 miles (56 kilometers) 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.
The fire broke out Friday evening. Crews worked through the night, but by Saturday morning authorities issued evacuation orders for lakeside communities and urged people seeking relief from the Labor Day weekend heat to stay away from the popular lake.
“Adjust your Labor Day weekend plans. Access to Shaver Lake is completely closed to the public due to the #CreekFire,” the Fresno County sheriff’s office tweeted after announcing evacuation orders for campsites and communities by the lake.
The California Highway Patrol shut State Route 168 to only allow access for emergency responders and evacuees.