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Firefighters Scramble To Reach Residents Trapped By Wildfires

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Yesterday, at this time, we were telling you of a rescue. Helicopters carried a large number of campers to safety after a California wildfire trapped them. Today, we are tracking another attempted rescue that is not yet complete. The fire that has many people trapped, the Creek Fire, is almost twice as big as it was yesterday. Laura Tsutsui of member station KVPR is in Fresno and has the latest. Good morning.

LAURA TSUTSUI, BYLINE: Good morning, Steve.

INSKEEP: How many people are in danger this time and where?

TSUTSUI: Yeah. At this point, I've heard from the Fresno County Sheriff's Office that an additional 200 people are trapped in the Sierra National Forest, where the Creek Fire is burning, and there's a few different groups here. Some are at a place called China Peak, some are at what's called Lake Edison, some at Shaver Lake, and these locations are all pretty much along one highway, the 168 we call it 'cause California. And as you get deeper into the forest, I mean, you know, you'll end up - I've driven this road, and you end up basically passing each one. And the bottom line is the fire has gotten so big and has just grown so quickly that that road and basically the way home or out for many of these residents and campers and hikers has been blocked.

And so the California National Guard has been supporting local, I guess, law enforcement and agencies to try and airlift these folks out, but they made a couple attempts last night. However, it's just been so smoky that they can't even land their helicopter. They can't rescue these people at this time. And what I've heard from authorities is that some of those folks are not in, you know, really imminent danger right now. They are calling it - you know, those at Shaver Lake have temporary refuge. But you can - I've seen photos from folks who are stranded there. The sky is just - well, right now, it's dark, but it's, you know, orange from the smoke and just super - just looks really dark and kind of like this really scary movie scene, right? And they just haven't been able to get them out yet.

INSKEEP: I'm just thinking this through. You've got military helicopters. They've got the latest technology, but it's very rough ground. You need a little clearing, at least, to land one of these big helicopters. And you need a little visibility, and there's just too much smoke. That's what's happening here, right?

TSUTSUI: Yeah. That's exactly what we're hearing from agencies who are able to go on the ground and, basically, who have, you know, flown a helicopter out there, tried to land and just have had to say, we can't do this right now.

INSKEEP: We keep hearing that this fire is 0% contained. Is there really nothing they can do in a national forest like this?

TSUTSUI: Well, right now, what - so the fire is now over 135,000 acres at last - when I last checked. And, really, it's - there's a lot of things working against, you know, the firefighters at this point. Part of it is that it's extremely hot in California. It's the terrain. Also many of the trees out there have been weakened by bark beetles so it's - that explains, to some extent, why it's been so difficult to get a handle on this.

INSKEEP: Yeah. Then they just become fuel. Laura, thank you very much for the update. I really appreciate it.

TSUTSUI: Thank you.

INSKEEP: Laura Tsutsui of KVPR in Fresno is reporting on the latest on the Creek Fire, which continues to burn as rescue efforts for many campers in that region continue. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.