VISALIA, Calif. – In less than 24 hours, a wildfire burned through thousands of acres of California’s Sierra National Forest on Saturday, trapping campers and forcing other people to evacuate.
The wildfire covering 56 square miles was burning on both sides of the San Joaquin River near Mammoth River and the communities of Shaver Lake, Big Creek and Huntington Lake.
Roughly 150 people were trapped and 10 were injured at a Mammoth Pool campground after flames blocked the only road out of the area. Madera County deputies were mounting a rescue, but those efforts are complicated by falling trees and fierce flames. Sheriff’s officials advised people at the campsite to shelter in place and jump into Mammoth Pool Reservoir, if necessary.
People near the reservoir about 45 minutes northeast of Fresno told local news stations that they are safe — for now — as the fire burned through the area in less than an hour, though all escape routes remain blocked by the fast-growing wildfire. The condition of those injured is unknown at this time
There are 3,000 structures threatened.
The fire is burning so quickly and intensely that climatologist Daniel Swain said a “pyrotornado may have occurred” following a “massive pyrocumulus cloud indicative of extreme fire behavior.”
Evacuation orders have been issued to residents in Camp Sierra and Big Creek in eastern Fresno County. An evacuation warning is also in effect for all visitors and residents of Shaver Lake.
Access to Shaver Lake is completely closed to the public, Fresno County Sheriff’s Department announced on Saturday.
The Creek Fire was sparked Friday night and grew exponentially on Saturday. The blaze is 0% contained, according to U.S. Forest Service officials.
So far, 450 firefighters have responded to the incident. The cause of this fire is under investigation.
A record-breaking 117 degrees was recorded in Los Angeles’ San Fernando Valley on Saturday and temperatures in the Central Valley are expected to be in the triple digits until Thursday. Extreme heat is cause for concern for firefighters battling the Creek Fire as well as the SQF Complex in Tulare County.
In Southern California, a fire in the foothills of Yucaipa has prompted evacuation orders for eastern portions of the city of 54,000 along with several communities, including Oak Glen, Mountain Home Village and Forest Falls. Cal Fire’s San Bernardino unit said the fire scorched at least 1 1/2 square miles and was burning at a “moderate to dangerous” rate of spread.
A portion of the San Gorgonio Wilderness was closed, and hikers were urged to immediately leave.
In eastern San Diego County, fire officials warned a fire near Alpine was burning at a “dangerous rate of speed” after spreading to 400 acres within an hour. A small community south of Alpine in the Cleveland National Forest was ordered to leave.
The heat wave was expected to spread triple-digit temperatures over much of California through Monday as a high pressure system perches over the Western United States. Officials urged people to conserve electricity to ease strain on the state’s power grid and to follow social distancing and mask requirements when they hit recreational areas.
Contributing: The Associated Press