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Escape From Mammoth Pool: A Wildfire Rescue That Saved 242 People (and 16 Dogs)

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A body of water in the foreground alongside a sandy beach and a forested hillside, beyond which the sky is all flames and smoke.
The fire burning at Mammoth Pool in September 2020. (Courtesy of Alex Tettamanti)

Listen to this and more in-depth storytelling by subscribing to The California Report Magazine podcast.

In September 2020, the fast-moving Creek Fire tore through remote stretches of the Sierra Nevada, northeast of Fresno, trapping hundreds of campers who were in the area for Labor Day weekend. Their only chance to escape the rapidly spreading flames was to gather together in a nearby lake. Miraculously, this story has a happy ending — all 242 people and 16 dogs were airlifted to safety as the forest burned around them.

An orange-and-black-hued photo of an RV and a few cars alongside a lake completely darkened by smoky skies.
The smoke-ridden sky above Mammoth Pool in September 2020. (Courtesy Alex Tettamanti)

A new podcast, Escape From Mammoth Pool, chronicles that dramatic event through the experiences of families who lived through it. Reporter Kerry Klein of Valley Public Radio spent more than a year talking to people trapped by the fire, and the rescuers who helped save them. She also dug into government documents and data to piece together what happened. Klein joins California Report Magazine host Sasha Khokha to share excerpts of the podcast, and talks about what it takes in the era of climate change to launch a successful large-scale rescue from a massive forest fire in the Sierra Nevada.

Massive plumes of white smoke above an otherwise clear day, with turquoise water of a lake and green trees in the foreground.
Smoke billows from the Creek Fire in September 2020. (Courtesy U.S. Forest Service)
A helicopter hovers over the lake with two trucks on the shore and a hillside burning beyond. Dark sky is completely orange and smoke-filled.
The rescue operation underway at Mammoth Pool in September 2020. (Courtesy Joseph Rosamond)

Escape From Mammoth Pool is a production of Valley Public Radio. It was reported and produced by Kerry Klein, and edited by Alice Daniel. Music in the podcast is written by Kevin MacLeod with additional music help from Benjamin Boone.

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