A group of backpackers from San Diego became trapped by the Creek Fire while hiking in the Sierra National Forest north of Fresno, and had to be evacuated from a wilderness resort by helicopters as the massive blaze closed in.
“Before we got out there we checked if there were any fires or bad weather conditions and there wasn’t,” said San Diego resident Katelyn Mueller.
Mueller and friends Issac Rodriguez, Ryan Thompson, and Yogi the dog all drove up to the Sierras for the holiday weekend. They had a backpacking trip planned around the backcountry.
The group was hiking the area on Saturday afternoon when they realized something wasn't right.
“We saw a bunch of thunderstorm clouds, it didn’t seem like anything else," said Rodriguez.
Cell service was spotty but they finally managed to contact the park ranger's office.
“They told us, ‘Yes there is a fire, it’s ways away. We can’t tell you to continue, but it’s pretty far away and the roads are open and you are not threatened so you can probably continue,'” recounted Mueller.
“That night it started getting really smoky and it started raining ash a lot,” said Rodriguez. “We went to sleep early and planned on waking up early and getting out of there.
“When we woke up Sunday morning it was still raining ash everywhere,” said Thompson. “The sun hadn’t quite made it over the mountain but when it did it wasn’t as bright as you would expect it to be. It was this red, alien-looking planet."
The group packed up their stuff and hiked back to their cars.
“I genuinely thought we were going to drive out that night," said Mueller.
On their way out they stopped at a wilderness resort in the area to ask about road conditions.
“They said, 'You can’t leave. There is a stay-at-home order,'” said Rodriguez.
“The not knowing was the hard part,” said Mueller. “We didn’t know if another fire happened. If we were going to be able to make it."
After two long nights, on Tuesday a siren went off.
“We were woken up at around 3:30 in the morning to the sound of helicopters," said Mueller.
The group and more than 100 other people sheltered at the resort were flown out of the area in military helicopters.
“We were home free at that point,” said Mueller.
Their cars are still stuck at the wilderness resort but they say they're not concerned. They're just glad to have made it out.