Visalia Times-Delta Photographer Ron Holman captures video of the Creek Fire before authorities asked the public to get to safety.
VISALIA, Calif. — Dozens of people were rescued by helicopter overnight into early Sunday as flames from the Creek Fire surrounded Mammoth Pool Campground and destroyed a small city in California.
The blaze spread at an exponential rate, incinerating more than 45,500 acres of wildland and prompting California Gov. Gavin Newsom on Sunday night to declare a state of emergency for three counties. At least 3,000 structures are threatened, according to U.S. Forest Service officials.
The fire is 0% contained and the cause is under investigation. More than 800 firefighters are at the scene, and more are on the way.
More than 200 people were brought to safety via helicopter, said Gen. Daniel Hokanson, Chief of the National Guard Bureau, in a tweet.
Simply extraordinary, lifesaving work by the @CalGuard airlifting more than 200 people to safety overnight from the imminent danger of the #CreekFire The National Guard stands Always Ready, Always There to support our communities and nation in times of need. pic.twitter.com/MybDKESipJ
— General Daniel Hokanson (@ChiefNGB) September 6, 2020
About 20-30 people suffered injuries and several were severely hurt, according to Fresno Fire Chief Sean Johnson.
“Resources are completely stretched thin,” he said.
Many homes were damaged or destroyed Saturday night. Officials estimate half of all homes in the small town of Big Creek were scorched.
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A complete picture of the damage caused by the Sierra National Forest fire is still unknown but is expected to be expansive.
Extreme heat is likely to push the fire’s growth over the next several days and thousands are asked to flee their homes and campgrounds.
Evacuations: All Creek Fire evacuation orders
Where was the fire started?
The fire was ignited Friday night near the San Joaquin River and the communities of Big Creek and Huntington Lake.
By Saturday afternoon, Fresno County Sheriff’s Department started to issue evacuation orders and advisories for visitors and residents. Newsom’s emergency order covers Fresno, Madera and Mariposa counties.
How many were rescued near Mammoth Pool?
Within hours, the fast-growing fire trapped hundreds of people near the Mammoth Pool Reservoir. National Guardsmen using military helicopters rescued more than 200 people by around 10 p.m. Saturday. Of those, Johnson said there were 20-30 injured, some severely.
A triage center was set up at Fresno Yosemite Airport to treat the rescued patients, many of them with severe injuries ranging from broken bones to burns and smoke inhalation. Several Fresno and Clovis fire crews were at the airport to help take patients to local hospitals.
The Fresno Convention Center was also converted into a reunification point for those rescued who didn’t require medical attention. Dozens of people stayed cool and rehydrated inside while waiting for loved ones and resting.
The convention center had been turned into a COVID-19 treatment center, so it was already set up to take patients.
Multiple areas faced evacuation orders Sunday, meaning there is an immediate threat to life.
Follow reporter Sheyanne Romero on Twitter @sheyanne_VTD.
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