California wildfires: Fire chief says dozens of major blazes have state in ‘dire situation’

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Father captures dramatic wildfire rescue during camping trip
01:55 - Source: CNN
CNN  — 

More than two dozen large wildfires raging across California after an extreme heat wave have created a “dire situation,” Thom Porter, chief of the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, said Tuesday.

“It is really one to behold. We have now, as of this morning, 25 major fires. We’ve had an additional, at least, two that have occurred just in the day today,” Porter told CNN’s Wolf Blitzer.

Cal Fire said earlier that more than 2.2 million acres have been scorched across the Golden State so far this year, a state record. According to Porter, many of the fires will continue to grow and remain “uncontrollable until we have a weather change.”

“We have fires burning in the north part of the state all the way down to the Mexican border, about 800 miles between the furthest distant fires, so we’re stretched across the landscape,” Porter said of his crews.

The Creek Fire racing through the mountains of Central California is being fueled by dead trees and has grown to more than 143,000 acres and destroyed an estimated 60 homes.

“We have 150 million trees that died in the southern Sierra several years ago, and those are fueling the Creek Fire, which is the biggest and most concerning fire to us right now,” he said.

Three firefighters were hurt, one critically, while battling the Dolan Fire in California’s central coast. They suffered burns and smoke inhalation and were taken to a Fresno hospital, said Chris Barth of the Bureau of Land Management.

Almost 400 airlifted to safety

The California Army National Guard colonel in charge of rescuing Sierra National Forest visitors from the fast-moving Creek Fire told CNN on Tuesday airlifts are going extremely well.

Col. David Hall told CNN’s Wolf Blitzer that about 385 people and 27 animals have been rescued over the past few days.

Helicopter crews Tuesday airlifted at least 148 people who had been trapped by the Creek Fire, one of many wildfires that rage in the Golden State when scorching weather conditions threaten even more.

Tuesday’s rescues, which also took 16 dogs to safety, came after hundreds of other people were airlifted from the forest over the weekend.

“There are definitely a lot of challenges floating out there. The biggest thing is this fire ended up escalating very rapidly,” Hall said.

He said backpackers, campers and hikers needed to be taken out by helicopter because the fire had or could overrun paths to safety.

Some of the people airflifted from the forest by the National Guard arrive at the Fresno Yosemite International Airport on Tuesday.

It wasn’t immediately clear how many more people were awaiting help.

“The people in remote areas are not considered to be … in any immediate danger. They are simply in spots that are sometimes unable to be accessed other than by helicopter,” Fresno County sheriff’s spokesman Tony Botti told CNN.

A home is engulfed in flames in the Tollhouse area of unincorporated Fresno County early Tuesday.

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 fire began Friday night, and its cause is under investigation.