Firefighters overtaken by flames in California mountains

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Noah Berger

Flames burn at a home leveled by the Creek Fire along Highway 168 on Tuesday, Sept. 8, 2020, in Fresno County, Calif. (AP Photo/Noah Berger)

SHAVER LAKE, Calif. – More than a dozen California firefighters trying to protect a fire station in rugged mountains were overrun by flames Tuesday, and several were hurt. Elsewhere, military helicopters rescued more than 150 people stranded in a burning forest.

Fourteen firefighters deployed emergency shelters as flames overtook them and destroyed the Nacimiento Station in the Los Padres National Forest on the state's central coast, the U.S. Forest Service said. They suffered from burns and smoke inhalation, and three were flown to a hospital in Fresno, where one was in critical condition.

The injuries came as wind-driven flames of more than two dozen major fires chewed through bone-dry California and forced new evacuations after a scorching Labor Day weekend that saw a dramatic airlift of more than 200 people.

Pilots wearing night-vision goggles to find a place to land before dawn pulled another 164 people from the Sierra National Forest and were working to rescue 17 others Tuesday, Gov. Gavin Newsom said.

“It’s where training meets the moment, but it always takes the courage, the conviction and the grit of real people doing real work,” said Newsom, who called the fires historic.

California has already set a record with nearly 2.3 million acres (930,800 hectares) burned this year, and the worst part of the wildfire season is just beginning.

The previous acreage record was set just two years ago and included the deadliest wildfire in state history, which was started by power lines and swept through the community of Paradise, killing 85 people.

That 2018 blaze forced the state's largest utility, Pacific Gas & Electric, to seek bankruptcy protection and guard against new disasters by cutting power preemptively when fire conditions are exceptionally dangerous.