California's Creek Fire trapped hundreds of people in the forest as helicopters struggled to land in the smoke. Rescue missions continue.

Noah Berger/AP PhotoA firetruck drives along state Highway 168 while battling the Creek Fire in the Shaver Lake community of Fresno County, California, September 7, 2020.
  • The rapidly spreading Creek Fire trapped hundreds of hikers and campers in California’s Sierra National Forest.
  • The Coast Guard rescued 164 people on Tuesday morning, after thick smoke prevented its helicopters from landing on Monday.
  • Over the weekend, rescuers evacuated 214 people and nearly a dozen pets from a campground surrounded by fire. Several evacuees suffered burns and broken bones.
  • Visit Insider’s homepage for more stories.

Hundreds of people have been rescued from an enormous wildfire that’s tearing through California’s Sierra National Forest. About 100 were trapped for several days while army helicopters struggled to reach them through thick clouds of smoke.

The Creek Fire has grown to nearly 144,000 acres in Fresno and Madera Counties since it ignited on Friday evening. By Monday, it had emitted so much smoke that the Coast Guard had to abandon attempts to reach stranded groups of hikers.

But Blackhawk and Chinook helicopters successfully retrieved 164 people and at least four dogs on Tuesday morning and evacuated them to an Army base in Fresno, according to local FOX26 News reporter Michael Ikahihifo.

The rescue effort was still ongoing as of Tuesday afternoon, with at least 17 more people stranded, Gov. Gavin Newsom said in a press conference. Local officials said the hikers rescued Tuesday had not been in immediate danger from the fire, unlike people who were rescued on Saturday and Sunday.

“It’s been so hard,” Lisa Ebright, whose husband and teenage sons were rescued Tuesday, told KCBS Radio. “Waiting for them, seeing the planes come and no one comes out, we’re not hearing from them. I’m so happy. I know I’m crying but they’re happy tears.”

The Creek Fire was 0% contained as of midday on Tuesday. Evacuation orders are in place for 45 areas of Fresno and Madera counties.

Hikers and campers were trapped as they tried to escape

Creek fire california firefightersMarcio Jose Sanchez/AP PhotoFirefighters keep an eye on the Creek Fire along state Highway 168, September 6, 2020, in Shaver Lake, California.

About 50 people awaited rescue Sunday through Tuesday at the Vermilion Valley Resort in the Sierra National Forest. The resort wrote on its Facebook pageSunday evening that hikers and campers had come off the trails to shelter there. Then on Tuesday morning, it posted photos of a military helicopter and people lining up with bags, saying that everyone was “loading up and heading off the mountain.”

However, the Fresno Fire Department saidMonday night that there may have been multiple casualties in the Lake Edison area, where the resort is located. The agency reported another 14 people trapped at China Peak on Monday.

Ethan Thao, a 14-year-old evacuee who’d been stranded for 14 hours during a family fishing trip, told local news station ABC30 that “it was kind of hard to breathe” as his family waited for rescuers.

“But then I got through it because I stayed in the car most of the time,” Thao added. “It went by faster because I was asleep.”

Creek fire california shaver lake firefighterMarcio Jose Sanchez/AP PhotoA firefighter watches the advancing Creek Fire, September 6, 2020, in Shaver Lake, California.

Over the weekend, 214 people and 11 pets were rescued from the Mammoth Pool Reservoir area as the fire surrounded a campground and caught campers off guard, Newsom said.

“We had to splash water on our hair because our hair was catching on fire,” 16-year-old Rylee Zukovsky told The New York Times on Sunday. “I was shoveling so much water into my face that I was almost drowning myself.”

Some of the Mammoth Pool evacuees suffered burns and broken bones as they tried to escape. About 20 were injured in total, and some were taken to the hospital.

“Nobody knew helicopters were coming,” Zukovsky said. “The Chinook just flew out of the smoke.”

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