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Crews Battle California's Creek Fire During Massive Rescue Operation

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

This Labor Day weekend did not unfold just the way that some people in California had hoped. They were out camping - seemed like a good thing to do in a pandemic. You're outdoors. You're away from other people. And then they heard word of approaching wildfires. One such person was Vicha Kim (ph) in central California.

VICHA KIM: We were there yesterday. It was fine. And we were like, OK, it's going to be OK. But then on the drive back, it was fiery red skies. It was pretty crazy.

INSKEEP: What made this worse for some people was the moment when they realized that fires had blocked their route of escape. Some campers needed a desperate airlift to safety. Reporter Alex Hall of KQED is in Fresno in California's Central Valley and covering this story. Good morning.

ALEX HALL, BYLINE: Good morning.

INSKEEP: OK, the fire that trapped people is called the Creek Fire. How big is this?

HALL: So this fire, as of now, is over 70,000 acres and zero percent contained.

INSKEEP: Wow.

HALL: It started on Friday in an area of the Sierra Nevada Mountains, near Fresno here in central California, and in an area where, you know, a lot of people recreate - there's a lot of camping, backpacking. People have cabins there. Some people live there. It's very dry - a lot of forested area. And this fire grew very quickly from several thousand acres to, like I said, over 70,000 acres.

And the list of areas where people are being ordered to evacuate keeps changing and growing every day. So you have people who are preparing to leave. Some people are even doing what they can to protect their homes. And this is an area, also, with a lot of ranches, and people are trying to figure out what to do with their horses and other livestock. Plus, it's Labor Day weekend. There's a lot of people out - just, you know, being outside. So you now have people coming down from the mountains either because they've already been evacuated or they're getting ready for when they have to be.

INSKEEP: Well, what happened with these people who were trapped?

HALL: Right. So there were about 200 people or so that were camping, like a lot of people were in this area, when the fire started. And they found themselves in the line of fire, and they had to evacuate, essentially, quickly. But the roads in this area were already blocked, and it wasn't safe to drive out, so they were essentially trapped. The California National Guard helicopters actually came in and airlifted the people there out. There's been photos on social media about this. You know, we're hearing that some people were injured, that they had broken bones or burns.

They were eventually taken to Fresno Yosemite International Airport and then, from there, to nearby hospitals. Now we're hearing - The Fresno Bee is reporting that some people are still there, and it's unclear exactly when they will be rescued.

INSKEEP: Wow. We'll continue covering that story. Now, Alex, I understand you yourself were out camping over the weekend. What was it like?

HALL: Yeah. Like many other people, I went out with a group of friends and actually drove through Yosemite Park, very close to a lot of the areas that are now, you know, up in flames. We camped near Mammoth Lakes, which is on the eastern side of the Sierra. And, you know, yes, it was very smoky on Saturday. We did hear about the fires starting near Shaver Lake. And, you know, we know a lot of people who live there or go there often. So, you know, it was sad. We talked about it.

But the smoke got really bad. At night, the moon was red, and then in the morning, the smoke was so bad that we had heard that where we were might be evacuated. And because we really didn't know what was going on and how quickly things would change, we just had to get out of there as soon as possible.

INSKEEP: Well, I'm glad you're safe. Alex, thank you very much.

HALL: Thank you.

INSKEEP: That's Alex Hall joining us by Skype. She is with our member station KQED and is currently in Fresno, Calif. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.