Months after Australia faced one of its most hellacious fire seasons on record, Californians are dealing with their own apocalyptic scenes.
The US state is reportedly having its worst wildfire season in its history in terms of the amount of land that has been scorched – and it’s far from over.
More than 2,094,955 acres (847,798 hectares) have burned across the state this year, California Fire Captain Richard Cordova told reporters on Sunday (local time).
“This is crazy. We haven't even got into the October and November fire season, and we've broken the all-time record,” he said.
“It concerns us because we need to get these firefighters off these lines and get them breaks from battling these wildfires.”
For some locals it was touch-and-go after fires moved in on Sunday.
More than 200 people were airlifted to safety by plane and helicopter after a fast-moving blaze cut off the only road out of the Mammoth Pool Reservoir, a popular recreational site in California's Sierra National Forest.
Jeremy Remington filmed a tense video from inside the inferno as they waited to be rescued.
“Just wanted to show you, if we make it out of this, what Mammoth Pools ... [inaudible]... We are completely trapped,” he said.
“There’s fire on all sides, all around us. All the roads are burnt.”
Twenty evacuees were taken to hospitals, the Madera County Sheriff said on Twitter.
Mr Remington was among those who were airlifted to safety, local news reported. About 20 had injuries ranging from broken bones to burns.
“The situation only can be described as just hellish conditions out there for those poor people,” Madera County Sheriff Tyson Pogue told reporters.
The fire had started on Friday night (local time) and rapidly grew to burn some 45,000 acres (18,210 hectares), forcing evacuations and road closures in the Fresno area in central California.
Dozens of evacuees are evacuated to safety on a Cal Guard Chinook last night after the Creek Fire in central California left them stranded. Photo courtesy California National Guard. pic.twitter.com/mi7X6wchpN— The California National Guard (@CalGuard) September 6, 2020
The blaze was eventually 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.
Three major fires, including the Creek Fire, were burning in Fresno, San Bernardino and San Diego counties, the agency said in a statement, adding it had increased staffing in preparation for "critical fire weather."
Eight people have been killed and some 3,300 structures have been destroyed over the past three weeks in wildfires across the state.
A dangerous heatwave was baking swaths of the western United States through the weekend, and many locations in California registered record-high temperatures on Saturday.
The National Weather Service earlier warned that "sweltering" heat was creating ideal conditions for wildfires.
Aussie firefighters on standby to help
In late August, the Californian governor called on Australia for help during its fire season, seeking about 55 specialised firefighters to lead operational teams on the ground.
However last week that call was cancelled, says Ben Shepard of the NSW Rural Fire Service.
“They were supposed to travel on Sunday but mid last week that request was cancelled,” he told Yahoo News Australia.
“They [Californian authorities] indicated a slight change in conditions across the country,” he said, suggesting the extra manpower wouldn’t be required.
In a state which has seen coronavirus case numbers continue to surge upwards, Mr Shepard said the COVID-19 implications of sending RFS personnel into the state were also considered by officials.
Australia and the US have shared firefighting resources for the past two decades, and whether NSW firefighters are sent to California this year, Mr Shepard said: “never say never”.
The @FresnoFire Department shared this video of the #CreekFire saying they've sent several personnel to help fight the fire. In total, they say they have 30 firefighters supporting statewide firefighting efforts across 7 separate incidents. #CaliforniaFires pic.twitter.com/cIFPZ8Y75J— Kirsten Mitchell (@Kirsten_TV) September 6, 2020
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