Western Wildfires

Rescue on Half Dome: Hikers Escape Yosemite Wildfire

A hiker describes the terrifying moment when she realized she would have to be airlifted from the top of Yosemite's iconic Half Dome.

. A wildfire burns next to Half Dome in Yosemite National Park, Calif., Sunday, Sept. 7. As of Monday, the fire had burned through about four square miles but cooler weather was slowing its spread.

Michael Frye / AP

. Smoke rising above Little Yosemite Valley. 100 people were evacuated from the valley Sunday, and 80 to 85 were removed by helicopter from the top of 5,000-foot Half Dome.

One of the evacuees was Rachael Kirk, 26, of Oakland, who took this photo. She said she and two friends had reached an outcropping about 400 feet below the summit when they saw the fire explode out of control.

Rachael Kirk / AP

. Kirk, who was hiking to Half Dome for the first time, said she didn't want to climb a board-and-cable stairway up the rock face to reach the top, but a park employee insisted.

"He said there was no way to land the helicopter except on top of Half Dome," Kirk said. "That was the moment everyone felt scared."

"One woman freaked out," she said. "They gave her a makeshift harness and helped her out on the cable."

Rachael Kirk / AP

. Hikers view the wildfire from the top of Half Dome.

Kirk said the climb and the airlift weren't something she wanted to repeat. "It was a once-in-a-lifetime experience, but I don't think I'll do it again," she said.

Rachael Kirk / AP

. Hikers are evacuated from the top of Half Dome by helicopter Sunday.

Rachael Kirk / AP

. About 120 firefighters and 11 aircraft fought the blaze, which may have erupted from embers of a fire sparked by lightning several weeks ago, officials said. Firefighters had monitored and controlled that fire before winds and temperatures increased on Sunday.

Jeffrey Trust / National Park Service via Reuters

. The wildfire burns next to Half Dome on Sunday.

-- The Associated Press

Michael Frye / AP