Two killed, 100 homes destroyed by fast-moving California wildfire

By Reuters/Noah Berger   June 25, 2016 | 03:55 pm GMT+7
Two killed, 100 homes destroyed by fast-moving California wildfire
A scorched car sits among leveled homes after the Erskine Fire burned through South Lake, California, U.S. June 24, 2016. Photo by Reuters/Noah Berger

A fast-moving central California wildfire that more than doubled in size on Friday has killed two people and destroyed 100 structures, prompting Governor Jerry Brown to declare a state of emergency for a fire-ravaged county.

The so-called Erskine Fire broke out on Thursday afternoon in the foothills of Kern County about 42 miles (68 km) northeast of Bakersfield, and three firefighters were hospitalized for smoke inhalation, officials said.

The fire has led hundreds of residents to evacuate and authorities were weighing whether to expand evacuation orders in the rural area of the state. The Kern County Fire Department said on Friday afternoon two people had died, though it did not identify the people or release further details. Officials said they were not firefighters.

High temperatures likely to surpass 90 degrees Fahrenheit (32 degrees Celsius) on Friday and bone-dry vegetation from a five-year California drought were stoking flames.

"Everything is just working into a perfect storm," Kern County fire Captain Mike Nicholas said in a phone interview.

On Friday, authorities warned the more than 3,000 residents of the community of Lake Isabella on the shore of a reservoir to be prepared to evacuate.

Southeast of Lake Isabella, dozens of burned-out homes and car frames could be seen in a neighborhood reduced to a field of mangled metal and collapsed roofs. Two groups of residents picked through the rubble while firefighters worked in the area.

Brown issued an emergency proclamation on Friday for Kern County.

The rapidly expanding blaze 150 miles (241 km) north of Los Angeles has destroyed 100 structures, including homes, outbuildings and detached garages, Nicholas said.

Another 1,500 structures were threatened.

The estimated size of the fire jumped from 8,000 acres (3,237 hectares) early on Friday to more than 19,000 acres (7,689 hectares) before noon local time, Nicholas said.

Morgan Rivers, an evacuee from the blaze, told Los Angeles television station KABC she lost the house that belonged to her late grandmother.

"It's fully mine now and I just lost it after getting it last year," Rivers told the station.

A contingent of 600 firefighters was battling the blaze with hundreds more en route, according to the government fire tracking website InciWeb.

"Our firefighters have been engaged in a firefight of epic proportions, trying to save every structure possible," Kern County Fire Department Brian Marshall said at a news conference.

The fire did not appear to threaten Sequoia National Forest to the north, Nicholas said.

The blaze, which was 0 percent contained, was one of several large wildfires burning in parched California.

To the south, firefighters were struggling to manage the so-called San Gabriel Complex fire in the foothills of Los Angeles County.

As of Friday, it had burned over 5,600 acres (2,266 hectares) of chaparral and short grass, and containment lines were drawn around 30 percent of its perimeter, according to InciWeb. 

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