Cal Fire officials said early Thursday that efforts to contain the Creek Fire would include “numerous firefighting air tankers … as conditions allow” over Fresno and Madera counties.
However, as of 1 p.m., a smoke-trapping inversion layer had kept aircraft grounded, Cal Fire said.
But FlightRadar24.com showed significant helicopter activity over the wildfire at about 3:45 p.m.
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Meanwhile, that same inversion layer is helping fire crews on the ground. With decreased wind, firefighters in Shaver Lake and North Fork could focus on containing the blaze.
Wednesday’s firefighting effort was aided by an increase in air support, resulting from “clean air” conditions that reduced some of the smoke that has hindered flight operations.
Among the aerial resources put to greater use on Wednesday: water-dropping helicopters and a 747 “Global Supertanker” capable of pouring 19,200 gallons of suppressant or retardant to slow the spread of the blaze.
Ground observers in Madera County said that the helicopter pilots showed great precision in squelching spot fires and helping protect North Fork and Bass Lake.
Creek Fire Now at 175,893 Acres Without Containment
Cal Fire reports that the fire grew to 175,893 acres overnight and into Thursday morning.
A total of 361 structures have been destroyed and 14,074 are threatened.
There are 1,336 personnel on the scene. The available equipment includes 142 engines, 60 dozers, 39 water tenders, and nine helicopters.
Creek Fire Evacuation Zones
Residents of Fresno and Madera counties can check their residences to see if they are in an evacuation zone or an evacuation warning zone.
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No More Room for Evacuated Animals at Clovis Rodeo Grounds
The Clovis Rodeo Grounds is at capacity and isn’t accepting animals evacuated from the Creek Fire at this time, Fresno County spokesman Jordan Scott said Thursday morning.
However, the Fresno Fairgrounds at 1121 S Chance Ave. is set up to receive more evacuated animals. Anyone transporting animals to the fairgrounds is asked to contact the Central California Animal Disaster Team (1-888-402-2238) to make arrangements before going to the fairgrounds, Scott said.
Keeping Eye Out for Looters
Law enforcement officers are patrolling evacuated areas regularly to prevent break-ins and looting, said Fresno County Sheriff’s Lt. Brandon Pursell on Wednesday night.
“We take that very seriously,” he said.
The Sheriff’s Office is deploying about 150 deputies each day to keep the area secure, Pursell said.
Madera County Sheriff’s Lt. Zack Zamudio said about 100 personnel from his agency are also assigned to the fire zone.
Watch Wednesday Night’s Creek Fire Briefing
Fast-Moving Wildfires Leave Less Time for Warnings, Evacuations
Associated Press reports that fire experts attribute the extreme behavior of the Creek Fire and other California wildfires to climate change.
Recently “we have seen multiple fires expand by tens of thousands of acres in a matter of hours, and 30 years or more ago that just wasn’t fire behavior that we saw,” said Jacob Bendix, a professor of geography and the environment at Syracuse University who studies wildfires.
Hotter temperatures, longer fire seasons, and an estimated 140 million dead trees from a five-year drought mean that “fires in California are moving faster and growing larger,” said University of Utah fire expert Philip Dennison.
Mike Flannigan, who directs the Western Partnership for Wildland Fire Science at Canada’s University of Alberta, remembers the first report of a fire-created thunderstorm in 1986.
“They were rare events, and now they’ve become commonplace,” he said. “It’s because these fires are higher intensity.”
Speaking directly about the Creek Fire, U.S. Forest Service forester Steve Lohr said: “When you have a fire run 15 miles in one day, in one afternoon, there’s no model that can predict that. The fires are behaving in such a way that we’ve not seen.”
‘Firenadoe’ Trapped Campers at Mammoth Pool
Neil Lareau, a professor of atmospheric science at the University of Nevada, said that the Creek Fire produced at least two firenadoes that appeared to touch down Saturday — one straddling an access road to the Mammoth Pool campground, where 214 people became trapped.
“It’s really kind of a testament to the remarkable extremes that we’re seeing right now,” Lareau said. “It really is kind of this vicious cycle that it gets into, and that’s when the fire really takes off and becomes these unstoppable infernos.”
Two California National Guard helicopters called in to rescue the trapped campers Saturday night found visibility deteriorating so swiftly that the crews opted to load their aircraft “to the absolute maximum” and well beyond normal safety limits in an unprecedented mission.
On one trip, Chief Warrant Officer 5 Joseph Rosamond and his three-member crew took on 102 desperate campers in a CH-47 Chinook twin-rotor helicopter designed for 30 passengers. A UH-60 Black Hawk ferried 22 evacuees in a helicopter with a normal operating capacity of 11 or 12 passengers.
The overloaded Chinook slowly climbed to 8,000 feet to clear the surrounding mountains and dense smoke.
“It was an absolute emergency and people’s lives were at stake,” Rosamond recalled. “It was pretty dicey. The charts don’t go that high.”
(Associated Press contributed to this article.)