More than 200 people were airlifted to safety overnight after a fast-moving wildfire cut off the only road out of the Mammoth Pool Reservoir, a popular recreational camping site in California’s Sierra National Forest.
Madera County Sheriff Tyson Pogue said about 20 evacuees had injuries ranging from broken bones to burns. Two people had to be carried on stretchers.
“The situation only can be described as just hellish conditions out there for those poor people,” Sheriff Pogue said.
They were taken to local hospitals as the Creek Fire that started on Friday night rapidly grew to burn 18,210 hectares, forcing evacuations and road closures in the Fresno area in central California.
Earlier, a Forest Services spokesperson told local media up to 1500 people were sheltering from the rapidly expanding fire front. All up, 224 had been flown out of the area.
In a terrifying video posted on Twitter, camper Jeremy Remington showed the wildfire burning down to the banks of the reservoir, as dozens of people take shelter inside their cars.
“We’re completely trapped. There’s fire on all sides, all around us,” Mr Remington said.
“All the roads are burnt, there’s fire everywhere,” he said.
The California Office of Emergency Services said Black Hawk and Chinook helicopters were used overnight Saturday to evacuate stranded campers as the lake rapidly became engulfed in smoke.
Mr Remington was one of dozens airlifted to safety as temperatures continued to soar past 45 degrees.
The blaze was contained on Sunday afternoon, while nearly 15,000 firefighters were battling some two dozen fires across the state, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.
The department said three major fires, including the Creek Fire, were burning in Fresno, San Bernardino and San Diego counties, adding it had increased staffing in preparation for “critical fire weather.”
The Associated Press reported the soaring temperatures across California could lead to planned power outages for up to 3 million customers on Sunday night local time, according to officials who oversee the state’s energy grid.
Eight people have been killed and some 3300 structures have been destroyed over the past three weeks in wildfires across the state.
A dangerous heat wave was baking swaths of the western United States over the weekend, and many locations in California registered record-high temperatures on Saturday.
The National Weather Service warned that “sweltering” heat would continue on Sunday, creating ideal conditions for wildfires.
State officials on Sunday repeated calls to Californians to turn off appliances and lights to help avoid blackouts from an overwhelmed power grid.
Southern California Edison Co (SCE), which services five million customer accounts in the region, was advising customers of potential rotating outages.
Rotating outages – in which utilities purposely cut power temporarily to avoid broader outages – are rare.
They last occurred in the region in August. Before that, they had not occurred in 20 years, said SCE spokesmen Reggie Kumar.