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California Wildfires: Extreme Heat Turns State Into a Furnace

Mr. Vasquez had moved to Big Creek as a child because his stepfather worked for the U.S. Forest Service, and had come back a year ago to take the job at the school.

He said he had wanted to raise his children in a place where he felt comfortable letting them go outside and not come home until evening, knowing that if anything happened, one of his neighbors would immediately call him.

“You have the ability to allow your children to still be children,” he said.

The surrounding area is also a popular summertime retreat of cabins, campgrounds and camps for scouts and church groups, but it became a fiery trap over the weekend.

Alec Ziff, 26, and Nick Meyers, 32, who both live in Santa Monica, had gone camping at Mammoth Pool Reservoir for the weekend to celebrate Mr. Ziff’s birthday. But what was supposed to be a relaxing weekend turned into a 30-hour ordeal of waiting to be rescued after the roads were blocked by wreckage from the fires.

Military helicopters landed on Saturday night and evacuated most of the roughly 200 people who had been trapped at the reservoir, but Mr. Ziff and Mr. Meyers assumed the helicopters were for people who had been burned, so they stayed behind with roughly 15 other people.

So many people had left belongings behind that they weren’t worried about food or water, they said. But by Sunday morning, the smoke had become suffocating, and in the late afternoon, they lost cell service.

“We were essentially beyond stranded,” Mr. Ziff said.

He was overjoyed when, in the evening, he saw three people with flashlights, who turned out to be from the U.S. Forest Service, walking down the hill from the parking lot. They had cleared the road, which had been blocked by burned trees and cars, and they led the stranded campers in a car caravan on a three-hour trip over back roads to Bass Lake. Mr. Ziff and Mr. Meyers then went to a Red Cross center in Oakhurst, and they were given a hotel room in Oakhurst.

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