(CNN) — More rescues by helicopter were underway Tuesday morning for Sierra National Forest visitors trapped by the fast-moving Creek Fire in California, a state where numerous wildfires are raging and weather conditions threaten more.
At least 13 people were rescued overnight from the forest by helicopter, Army National Guard Col. David Hall told NBC’s “Today” show, and more attempts will happen as the day goes on.READ MORE: Stimulus Check Update: Are Relief Payments Bad For The Economy?
“We’ve made multiple attempts the past couple of days trying to get to those remote camp sites,” Hall told “Today.” “Weather and the smoke are cooperating with us better, and we’re going to keep working tirelessly … until we get out as many people as we can.”
More than 200 other people were airlifted from the forest to safety over the weekend because of the Creek Fire, which the Forest Service said has burned 135,523 acres in the Sierra Nevada Mountains northeast of Fresno. It has no containment after it began Friday night.
Dozens of people, including hikers and campers, still couldn’t leave the forest by themselves because fire had blocked paths out, Fresno County fire officials said Monday night. People were taking refuge in four locations.
As of Tuesday morning, park visitors waiting to be rescued were not in immediate danger, but they would eventually be at risk if the fire grows, Hall told “Today.”
The Creek Fire has forced evacuations in Madera and Fresno counties. The fire is an “unprecedented disaster” for Fresno County, US Forest Service Supervisor Dean Gould said Monday, adding that while major wildfires have occurred in the area before, this fire is the “most aggressive of any of those.”
The wildfire has caused heavy structural damage, and current conditions prevented damage inspection teams from getting into the areas to survey exactly how many structures have been lost, a Cal Fire official said during the briefing.
California wildfires have burned more than 2 million acres and prompted intentional power outages
At least 22 large fires are burning in California, where dry, windy conditions and record-breaking high temperatures have been fueling flames for weeks in some areas.
While firefighters battle the flames and rescue people from dangerous areas, a utility is temporarily shutting electricity service for tens of thousands of customers.
Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E) has intentionally cut power in 22 Northern California counties to lessen the chance that any electric equipment damaged by winds would cause more fire. About 172,000 PG&E customers were impacted Monday night, and full restoration was expected by Wednesday evening.
There are currently 76 large wildfires burning across the United States, according to the National Interagency Fire Center, and California has been the hardest hit state. More than 4.6 million acres have been burned nationwide so far this year, according to the NIFC. More than 2.09 million of those acres have burned in California, Cal Fire has said.READ MORE: Federal Agencies Raid Roseville Home Of Former Sacramento Sheriff's Employee
Weather conditions will mean high fire risks from Washington to Arizona — including much of California — Tuesday and Wednesday. As of Tuesday morning, areas covering more than 38 million people in six Western states were under red flag warnings, which caution that conditions likely to start or spread fires — strong winds and dry conditions — were imminent or happening.
Peak wind gusts of up to 50 mph are expected for many elevated areas in Northern California, which only exacerbates an already active fire season in the state as hot and dry weather will continue to dry out vegetation and make it more susceptible to fires during a wind event, PG&E senior meteorologist Scott Strenfel said.
Fire threat closes national forests
Another safety measure due to the “monumental fire threat” is the closure of national forests in Southern and Central California.
Statewide, all campgrounds will be closed for day use and overnight camping starting Monday night, a news release from the US Forest Service said.
“Most of California remains under the threat of unprecedented and dangerous fire conditions with a combination of extreme heat, significant wind events, dry conditions, and firefighting resources that are stretched to the limit,” the release said.
Among the areas being closed are the Sierra National Forest, where the Creek Fire is still burning out of control and The San Bernardino National Forest, where the El Dorado Fire was sparked by a device at a gender reveal party. Sequoia National Forest will be closed as well, but the National Park remains open with restrictions of no fires, and a warning of poor air quality.
The closure means no hiking, biking, fishing, or even taking scenic drives. The Forest Service hopes the closure will reduce the potential for fires caused by humans.
“The wildfire situation throughout California is dangerous and must be taken seriously. Existing fires are displaying extreme fire behavior, new fire starts are likely, weather conditions are worsening, and we simply do not have enough resources to fully fight and contain every fire,” said Randy Moore, Regional Forester for the USDA Forest Service Pacific Southwest Region.
The full closures impact Stanislaus National Forest, Sierra National Forest, Sequoia National Forest, Inyo National Forest, Los Padres National Forest, Angeles National Forest, San Bernardino National Forest, and Cleveland National Forest. They will be re-evaluated daily as conditions change.
Despite how large and widespread the fires in the US are, this season is actually lower than the 10-year average for the same period, according to NIFC. So far this year, there have been a total of 40,883 fires, a number below the 10-year average of 43,456, according to the data from NIFC. The total acreage burned since the beginning of the year is 4,645,058, compared to the 10-year average of 5,680,220 acres, the NIFC said.MORE NEWS: Study: There Was No 'Mass Exodus' From California In 2020
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