GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Two West Michigan women were airlifted to safety after being trapped by the flames of a devastating California wildfire.
Jean Reynolds of Grand Haven and Kathy Schipper of Spring Lake were among the dozens of hikers rescued by emergency crews Tuesday morning.
The two friends were just a few days into their west coast hiking trip when the fast-moving Creek Fire forced them to evacuate the area.
“As we started to head down the trail, it got really smoky and we starting to get covered in ash actually from the smoke (and) fire,” Reynolds told News 8 in a Zoom call Tuesday. “That’s when we knew things were changing rapidly.”
They were able to make contact with search and rescue crews, who advised them to get off the trail and head to a staging area near Lake Edison, which is northeast of Fresno in central California.
“We hiked off the trail seven miles to get to the staging area, where we met up with other hikers that come in too,” Reynolds said. “There was probably about 80 to 100 hikers all waiting there to be evacuated.”
The plan was to evacuate the area Monday night, but high winds prevented the helicopters from landing. Just before dawn on Tuesday, emergency crews were able to touch down.
The hikers were airlifted to a National Guard base in Fresno.
“There was a moment on the helicopter once we got up and out of there where Kathy and I just looked at each other and our eyes just started raining tears,” Reynolds said.
Overcome with relief and gratitude, they have a newfound respect for the emergency crews bravely battling the elements to help others.
“This puts other things in perspective in terms of how nature can be so powerful and we can be so powerless over it,” Reynolds said.