California Wildfire Kills Two, Destroys 100 Structures

The Erskine fire has been the worst in an already intense California fire season.

Flames from the Erskine Fire engulf a home near Weldon, California, US June 24, 2016. Credit: Reuters/Noah Berger

Flames from the Erskine fire engulf a home near Weldon, California, US June 24, 2016. Credit: Reuters/Noah Berger

Lake Isabella, California: A massive California wildfire that has already killed two people and destroyed 100 structures was burning out of control on the evening of June 24 as officials said it was possible more victims could be found in the rubble.

The so-called Erskine fire, which broke out on the afternoon of June 23 in the foothills of Kern County about 68 km northeast of Bakersfield, had mushroomed on June 24 to char more than 30,000 acres, making it one of the worst in an already intense California fire season.

The blaze has also sent three firefighters to the hospital for smoke inhalation and forced hundreds of residents to flee their homes ahead of the flames. California governor Jerry Brown declared a state of emergency for Kern County.

“This has been a massive amount of evacuations, people going door to door asking people to leave their homes because it’s very dangerous out there,” Kern County sheriff Donny Youngblood told reporters at a press conference on June 24.

Youngblood said two people had been confirmed killed in the inferno and that more fatalities could be discovered once authorities were able to search burned out neighbourhoods.

“We’re gonna go back over the rubble with cadaver dogs,” he said. “We don’t know if there are other victims who were unable to escape this fire.”

Fire officials said they had 5% containment of the Erskine fire as of the night of June 24, which was being driven by high temperatures and bone-dry vegetation from a five-year California drought.

“Everything is just working into a perfect storm,” Kern County fire captain Mike Nicholas said in a phone interview.

Some 800 firefighters struggled against the fast-moving flames in steep terrain and hundreds more were headed in to reinforce.

On June 24, 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 neighbourhood reduced to a field of mangled metal and collapsed roofs. Two groups of residents picked through the rubble while firefighters worked in the area.

Alex Thompson, 20, was standing on a street in the community of Weldon, where houses were burning and said he believed his home was lost as well, though he could not be sure.

“It makes me sad because I know I can’t get that stuff back,” Thompson said. “Basically, we’re homeless right now.”

The rapidly expanding blaze 241 km north of Los Angeles has destroyed 100 structures, including homes, outbuildings and detached garages, Nicholas said. Another 1,500 structures were threatened.

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

As of June 24, it had burned over 5,300 acres of chaparral and short grass and containment lines were drawn around 30% of its perimeter. All evacuation orders have been lifted.