Multiple wildfires raged across the United States on Saturday, causing death, destruction and thousands of forced evacuations.
A wildfire near Yosemite National Park in California continued to grow on Saturday, destroying at least 10 structures and prompting mandatory evacuations for at least 6,000 people. In Idaho, two pilots of a firefighting helicopter died after crashing in a fire in a rural area near the Montana border.
Thomas Hayes, 41, of Post Falls, Idaho, and Jared Bird, 36, of Anchorage, Alaska, were identified as the pilots. Their helicopter crashed into the Salmon River around 4:45 p.m. Thursday, Salmon-Challis National Forest spokeswoman Mary Cernicek told USA TODAY.
Both pilots were transported to a nearby hospital, where they died of their injuries, according to an incident report from the Lemhi County Sheriff’s Office.
Meanwhile, forest fires also burned across Europe. Tens of thousands of people have been evacuated in France as firefighters battle wildfires that have ravaged more than 78 square miles in the Bordeaux wine region, authorities said. The blaze comes as huge swathes of Europe have been charred by wildfires this week amid an extreme heat wave.
HEAT WAVE FORECAST:Dangerous heat will continue all weekend across the United States
Pilots Die Fighting Moose Fire
The two pilots who died in the accident were hired to help fight the Moose Fire, Cernicek said.
More than 700 firefighters were battling the blaze Saturday as it burned about 21 miles north of Salmon, Idaho, according to the National Interagency Fire Center.
A red flag warning was issued on Saturday as high temperatures, low humidity and gusty winds threatened to worsen the blaze, which had spread more than 45 square miles by Saturday evening.
HEAT WAVE IN EUROPE:UK ‘national emergency’ as historic weather forecasts and wildfires rage
Nine helicopters were supporting ground crews with water bucket drops on Friday, according to an incident report from the center.
Cernicek said the National Transportation Safety Board is investigating the cause of the accident.
Idaho Governor Brad Little ordered all U.S. and Idaho state flags to be flown at half-mast on Friday in honor of the two pilots killed in the helicopter crash.
CRASH IN NEW MEXICO:4 dead after New Mexico sheriff’s helicopter crashes while helping fight wildfires
Wildfire in Yosemite causes evacuations and damages structures
A wildfire that broke out on Friday is rapidly spreading, becoming one of the biggest wildfires of the year in California. The Oak Fire, which started southwest of Yosemite, caused evacuations and damaged at least 10 structures, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.
It erupted as firefighters made progress against an earlier blaze that had burned to the edge of a grove of giant sequoias in the southernmost part of Yosemite Park. The Oak Fire burned nearly 15 square miles and was 0% contained Saturday night, Cal Fire said.
Evacuation orders were put into effect Saturday for more than 6,000 people living for several miles in the sparsely populated rural area, said Daniel Patterson, spokesman for the Sierra National Forest. Lushmeadows, a subdivision of about 1,700 residents in the Sierra Nevada foothills region, was among those under mandatory evacuation orders.
Firefighters make progress on previous Yosemite blaze
The Oak Fire raged as firefighters made significant progress against the Washburn Fire, which burned from Yosemite National Park into the Sierra National Forest, threatening Mariposa Grove, home to hundreds of giant sequoias.
The Washburn Fire was 79% contained Saturday afternoon after burning nearly 7.6 square miles. After starting on July 7, the fire forced Yosemite’s south entrance to close and led to the evacuation of hundreds of people in the Wawona community.
GIANT SEQUOIAS ENDANGERED:Thick wildfire smoke hangs over Yosemite; the flames reached a remarkable grove of giant sequoias
The U.S. Forest Service also announced Friday plans to take emergency action to save giant sequoias threatened by increasingly intense wildfires exacerbated by climate change and aggressive fire suppression methods. The plan will speed up projects to clear undergrowth from the dense forest that has fueled the raging fires near the world’s tallest trees.
Contributor: The Associated Press
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