Wildfires in US: 2 firefighting helicopter pilots die in Idaho; thousands ordered to evacuate near Yosemite

Multiple wildfires raged across the U.S. Saturday, causing deaths, destruction and thousands of forced evacuations.

A wildfire near Yosemite National Park in California continued to grow Saturday, destroying at least 10 structures and causing mandatory evacuations for at least 6,000 people. In Idaho, two pilots in a firefighting helicopter died after crashing during a blaze 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 in the Salmon River at about 4:45 p.m. Thursday, Mary Cernicek, spokesperson with the Salmon-Challis National Forest, told USA TODAY.

Both pilots were transported to a nearby hospital, where they died from their injuries, according to a Lemhi County Sheriff's Office incident report.

Meanwhile, wildfires also burned across Europe. Tens of thousands of people were evacuated in France as firefighters battled wildfires that ripped through over 78 square miles in the country's wine region of Bordeaux, authorities said. The blaze comes as huge swaths 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 US

Pilots die while battling Moose Fire

The two pilots who died in the crash were contracted 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 Saturday as high temperatures, low humidity and gusty winds threatened to worsen the fire, which had spread to over 45 square miles as of Saturday evening.

HEAT WAVE IN EUROPE: 'National emergency' in UK as historic temps forecast and wildfires rage

Nine helicopters were supporting ground crews with water bucket drops Friday, according to an incident report from the center.

Cernicek said the National Transportation Safety Board was investigating the cause of the crash.

Idaho Gov. Brad Little ordered that all U.S. and State of Idaho flags be flown at half-staff Friday in honor of the two pilots killed in the helicopter crash.

NEW MEXICO CRASH: 4 dead after New Mexico sheriff's helicopter crashes while helping battle wildfires

Yosemite wildfire prompts evacuations, damages structures

A wildfire that erupted Friday is spreading quickly, growing into one of California's largest wildfires of the year. The Oak Fire, which started southwest of Yosemite, prompted 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 burned to the edge of a grove of giant sequoias in the southernmost part of Yosemite park. The Oak Fire has burned through nearly 15 square miles and was 0% contained Saturday evening, Cal Fire said.

Evacuation orders were put in effect Saturday for over 6,000 people living across a several-mile span in the sparsely populated, rural area, said Daniel Patterson, a spokesman for the Sierra National Forest. Lushmeadows, a subdivision of about 1,700 residents in the Sierra Nevada foothill area, was among those under mandatory evacuation orders.

Flames engulf a chair inside a burning home as the Oak Fire burns in Mariposa County, Calif., on Saturday, July 23, 2022.
Flames engulf a chair inside a burning home as the Oak Fire burns in Mariposa County, Calif., on Saturday, July 23, 2022.

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 it burned almost 7.6 square miles. After starting July 7, the fire forced the southern entrance of Yosemite to shutter and led to the evacuation hundreds of people in the community of Wawona.

GIANT SEQUOIAS THREATENED: Thick wildfire smoke hangs over Yosemite; flames reached notable giant sequoia grove

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 dense forest underbrush that has fanned raging fires near the world's largest trees.

Contributing: The Associated Press

Contact News Now Reporter Christine Fernando at or follow her on Twitter at @christinetfern.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Oak Fire expands in California; 2 pilots die amid Idaho Moose Fire