On Wednesday, four people trapped and injured by a wildfire in Whiskeytown National Recreation Area in northern California used a cell phone to call 911 and summon help. Fire crews fighting the Motion Fire Complex blaze quickly rescued the party, which consisted of four Hispanic males (three adults and a teenager) wearing military surplus store- purchased camouflage clothing with US Army and National Guard insignia.
The men, three of whom had suffered burns, claimed they had been hunting in the area for the preceding four or five days, but officials found the story to be a bit of a stretch. Putting aside the matter of what can be legally hunted in this area, and at this time of year, there is the question of whether they were hunting at all. The men refused to say where their hunting weapons were, and no weapons could be found. The road on which the burn victims were rescued, Pioneer Drive, had been closed to the public for days due to fire danger. The men were picked up about a quarter-mile north of the Whiskey Creek boat launch.
Authorities believe that the rescued men may have had something to do with marijuana cultivation sites that had been identified nearby. In fact, firefighters had been repeatedly warned that armed suspects might be in the area. Authorities will be conducting a full investigation after the fire (now 100% contained) is out.
The suspects were about a mile inside the park when they were burned. They were in dire danger when part of the Motion Fire burned northward from Whiskeytown Lake into the Whiskey Creek drainage.
One of the adults had third-degree burns and was evacuated by helicopter to a burn center. The two other men, both undocumented Mexican nationals, were treated for minor burns and smoke inhalation, charged with illegal presence in a closed area, and turned over to Immigration and Customs Enforcement. They have been been placed on ICE hold for deportation.
The teenager was treated for minor injuries, ticketed for being in a closed area, and released.
Fire continues to interfere with recreational use of Whiskeytown National Recreation Area. Some areas of the park remain closed because of the Motion fire (north side of highway 299) and the Whiskeytown Fire on the Shasta Bally side of the park. Road closures include South Fork Mountain Lookout, Paige Bar, Muletown, Peltier Valley, Shasta Bally Road, and Kennedy Memorial Drive (including all trails above Kennedy Memorial Drive, South Shore Drive, Grizzly Gulch and Mill Creek). Visitors should check for updates.
Portions of the park are being reopened to the public, including all of Whiskeytown Lake and shoreline except for the Whiskey Creek arm.
The Whiskeytown Complex of fires, which have burned thousands of acres in the park, are part of a California fire tally that has reached a staggering 2,093 fires statewide. As of today, Friday, July 18, nearly 900,000 acres have been burned in California. On the positive side, only 43 of the fires currently burning remain uncontained.