This 24 June 2016 image shows the massive cloud of smoke cast by the 35,000-acre Erskine Fire on the southeastern shores of Lake Isabella, California. Photo: Trevor Hughes / USA TODAY

By Trevor Hughes
26 June 2016

LAKE ISABELLA, California (USA TODAY) – As crews searched Saturday for more wildfire victims, officials said scorching heat predicted for the next week will likely help fuel the deadly Erskine Fire and complicate efforts to control the blaze.

Two people are confirmed dead in the 35,000-acre wildfire that began Thursday night, and officials say they fear they may find more victims in the tangled mess left behind by the inferno. The two people who died were apparently overcome by smoke as they fled their home. The fire called an “ugly monster” by one firefighter consumed about 150 homes across the area, many of them quick-to-burn mobile homes and trailers reduced to little more than melted aluminum.

Firefighters found what appears to be a set of human remains while going through neighborhoods, but because they were so badly burned forensic investigators will have to determine whether they belonged to a person or animal, Kern County Sheriff’s spokesman Ray Pruitt said.

In a briefing Saturday morning, authorities reassured evacuees that they’re closely patrolling neighborhoods to prevent looters and said they hoped by Saturday afternoon to have a better handle on exactly what homes were destroyed, a painstaking process requiring in-person visits by assessment teams working in the still-dangerous environment.

Hundreds of people have been evacuated from the area. Authorities won’t let them return until they’ve got a better handle on the blaze. More wind and scorching temperatures predicted for the next week will make that harder, although the fire on Friday largely burned its way east away from homes.

At least 1,500 structures remain threatened, and the fire on Friday at one point jumped the main road from the town of Lake Isabella east toward the South Lake area, forcing authorities to divert drivers. [more]

California firefighters begin grim search for more wildfire victims

By Trevor Hughes
25 June 2016

LAKE ISABELLA, California (USA TODAY) – The unusually swift Erskine Fire overcame and killed two people fleeing its flames, and authorities fear they’ll find more dead as they sift through the wreckage of destroyed neighborhoods.

The fire sparked Thursday afternoon is now estimated at 30,000 acres and it has destroyed at least 80 homes. Most of those homes burned in a short period Thursday evening as high winds pushed the blaze east over a ridge. The fire left behind scorched brick, concrete and steel, but consumed almost everything else in some areas. After examining the damage, Kern County Sheriff Donny Youngblood said he believes the death toll will rise. He said authorities plan to use cadaver-sniffing dogs because some many homes were reduced to rubble.

"I’m fearful because this fire moved so rapidly,” Youngblood said as smoke rose into the sky behind him. “Certainly, I have fears. I hope they are wrong.” […]

The fire melted electrical and communication lines, severing contact with the outside world for many residents who were forced to flee the flames Thursday evening.

"I've lost everything," said Anthony Kerns on Friday morning after checking on his now-destroyed mobile home in the South Lake area. Many of the mobile homes in the park were essentially vaporized, reduced to just their metal roof and perhaps a set of brick stairs. […]

California is a tinderbox of dead trees, which is fueling the fire risk. A new federal report says 26 million trees have died in the southern Sierra Nevada since October 2015, and those deaths are in addition to the 40 million trees that died across the state from 2010 to October 2015, bringing the total to at least 66 million dead trees. Four straight years of severe drought in California, a dramatic rise in bark beetle infestation and warmer temperatures are leading to historic levels of tree die-off, according to the report. [more]

Two confirmed dead in Erskine wildfire



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