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California wildfires: Hikers rescued as blazes rage

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Rescuers in California have been airlifting dozens of people trapped by a huge fire, as crews continue to battle blazes across the state.

An initial attempt to rescue the group, stranded in mountain refuge for two nights, was abandoned on Monday night because of smoke from the Creek Fire.

But helicopters were able to land early on Tuesday and are have begun taking the hikers to safety.

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Fires in California have burned through a record 2m acres in recent weeks.

In total, these blazes span larger than the US state of Delaware.

California is currently experiencing an unprecedented heatwave.

Los Angeles County reported its highest-ever temperature of 49.4C (121F) on Sunday. Temperatures have dropped since then, but high winds are expected to fan the flames until Wednesday.

More than 14,000 firefighters are battling 25 major blazes in California.

The Creek Fire is the largest one. It broke out in the Sierra Mountains – a major tourism spot – north-east of Fresno on Friday.

The fire has burned more than 135,000 acres and none of it has been contained, Fresno fire chief Tony Escobedo said late on Monday.

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How are the rescues unfolding?

Early on Tuesday morning, the California National Guard began efforts to reach groups of hikers and campers trapped by the Creek Fire in the Sierra National Forest.

About 50 had been forced to shelter at the Vermilion Valley Resort on Sunday.

Beginning at 03:15 local time (10:15 GMT), helicopters were dispatched for three separate rescue flights to the area. Photos posted by the Vermilion Valley Resort showed hikers lining up to board an awaiting helicopter.

Col David Hall of the California National Guard said early on Tuesday that there were “a lot of people that are still trying to be rescued“.

An earlier attempt was suspended on Monday night due to heavy smoke. “The weather and the smoke are co-operating with us a bit better,” Col Hall told NBC News on Tuesday.

None of those still stranded are currently in the fire danger area, he said, though they may be at risk if the fire continues to grow.

At the weekend, 200 hikers were rescued from the area. The fire has devastated the small town of Big Creek, destroying at least two dozen homes, the Los Angeles Times reports.

What about the other fires?

Valley Fire in San Diego County has burned through more than 17,000 acres, and prompted the evacuation of the remote town of Alpine.

Bobcat fire in Angeles National Forest has destroyed nearly 5,000 acres and forced the evacuation of the Mount Wilson Observatory.

Another blaze, the El Dorado fire in San Bernardino County, was started by fireworks during a gender reveal party on Saturday, officials say.

Gender reveal parties are celebrations announcing whether expecting parents are going to have a girl or a boy. In recent years, several large-scale parties have gone wrong, even resulting in the death of a woman in 2019.

California has seen nearly 1,000 wildfires since 15 August, often started by lightning strikes.

There have been at least eight fires and more than 3,300 structures have been destroyed, state agency Cal Fire said on Monday.

Electricity supplies are being shut off to residents in 22 counties to prevent sparks from power lines setting off new fires. More than 170,000 residents are affected.

In 2018, 1.96 million acres were burned – the highest since Cal Fire began tracking numbers in 1987.

Cal Fire spokeswoman Lynne Tolmachoff told the Associated Press on Monday: “It’s a little unnerving because September and October are historically our worst months for fires. It’s usually hot, and the fuels really dry out. And we see more wind events”.

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