Creek Fire in California generates smoke clouds up to 50,000 feet, campers rescued

Massive wildfire traps over 150 people at California campground

Authorities help rescue campers from fast-moving wildfire.

An explosive wildfire in California that caused dozens to be rescued from a campground by a military helicopter has generated massive plumes of smoke stretching into the sky.

The Creek Fire exploded in size on Saturday near Shaver Lake, scorching some 36,000 acres as it jumped a river near the lake and compromised the only road into the Mammoth Pool Campground.

The fast-spreading blaze sent plumes of smoke into the sky as authorities urged people seeking relief from the Labor Day weekend heat wave to evacuate from areas in the Sierra National Forest.


The National Weather Service (NWS) Oakland Center Weather Service Unit said that "multiple aircraft" were reporting the smoke plume tops were above 50,000 feet.

The large smoke plume from the Creek Fire in California can be seen in satellite imagery from Saturday, Sept. 5, 2020.

There were also "multiple" lightning strikes detected in the area.

A passenger on a flight from San Jose to Las Vegas also posted photos from the aircraft of the huge clouds generated by the blaze.

Satellite imagery also captured what is known as a "pyrocumulonimbus cloud." According to the NWS, a pyrocumulus cloud forms if there is enough moisture and atmospheric instability over the "intense heat source."

Huntington Lake is seen in the foreground as the Creek Fire burns in the distance Saturday, Sept. 5, 2020, about 35 miles northeast of Fresno, Calif.
(Eric Paul Zamora/The Fresno Bee via AP)

"Although not common, these clouds can grow large enough to produce lightning and possibly some light precipitation," the NWS notes.

The explosive storms can form during a fire when heat and moisture from the plants are released, even when the fuel is relatively dry.

Towering smoke plumes from the Creek Fire can be seen on Saturday, Sept. 5, 2020.
(US Forest Service)

The storms can inject particles as high as 10 miles into the air and generate dry lightning. The rising air also can cause intense updrafts that suck in air at a rate to cause strong winds to develop.


Timelapse satellite imagery from the NWS forecast office in Las Vegas shows the blaze spreading and plumes of smoke growing larger.

According to InciWeb, some 450 firefighters are battling the blaze. Mandatory Evacuations are in place for the communities of Big Creek, Huntington Lake and Cascadel Woods as Highway 168 is closed 2.7 miles east of Prather.

The fire broke out Friday evening. Crews worked through the night, but by Saturday morning authorities issued evacuation orders for lakeside communities and urged people seeking relief from the Labor Day weekend heat to stay away from the popular lake.

A family from Ventura County watches, from the shore of Shaver Lake, the billowing smoke from the Creek Fire, Saturday, Sept. 5, 2020, northeast of Fresno, Calif.
(Eric Paul Zamora/The Fresno Bee via AP))

The Fresno Fire Department said early Sunday that 63 people were rescued by military helicopters and delivered to Fresno Yosemite International Airport after the blaze trapped campers Saturday at a reservoir in the Sierra National Forest.

Smoke from the Creek Fire billows beyond a ridge as seen from Huntington Lake on Saturday, Sept. 5, 2020, at Huntington Lake, Calif.
(Eric Paul Zamora/The Fresno Bee via AP)

Of the 63 people rescued, two were severely injured, 10 were moderately injured and 51 others had minor or no injuries, according to a tweet by the Fresno Fire Department.

Army Gen. Daniel Hokanson, chief of the National Guard Bureau, said on Twitter that the California National Guard was performing a "major" rescue with a CH-47 Chinook helicopter airlifting people trapped by the Creek Fire.

Hokanson shared a photo from the cockpit of the aircraft as it was performing rescues.

"So proud of our National Guard pilots and crews. Thoughts with those affected by this unfolding disaster," he tweeted.


At least 2,000 structures were threatened in the area about 290 miles north of Los Angeles, where temperatures in the city’s San Fernando Valley reached 117 degrees on Saturday.

National forest spokesman Dan Tune told the Associated Press that campers were told to shelter in place until fire crews, aided by water-dropping aircraft, could gain access to the site. Tune said he didn’t know how close the fire was burning to the campsite.

“All our resources are working to make that escape route nice and safe for them,” he said.


The lake 35 miles northeast of Fresno is surrounded by thick pine forests and is a popular destination for boating and fishing. Bone-dry conditions and the hot weather fueled the flames.

“Once the fire gets going, it creates its own weather, adding wind to increase the spread,” Tune said.

Fox News' Brie Stimson and the Associated Press contributed to this report.

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