Investigators mop up, examine area of Kern River fires

BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KBAK/KBFX) The cleanup and investigation continue after a pair of wildfires raced along the riverbed in Bakersfield. The blaze threatened stables in the area, and horse owners are praising people who showed up to help protect the animals.

No people or animals were hurt in the fires on Thursday, which Kern County fire crews now say blackened about 20 acres. One blaze broke out near the Bakersfield Heart Hospital, and the "Bottom Fire" scorched an area west of the Manor Street bridge.

"The danger was incredible because the humidity factor was extremely low," Kern County Fire Engineer Anthony Romero said. He said vegetation in the area is very dry. Anything and everything could have caught fire in a flash.

But, there were more challenges on Thursday afternoon because of the gusty wind. "That fire yesterday was a fast-moving fire," Romero described. "It went on both sides of the river." They had Kern County Sheriff's search and rescue teams helping ferry firefighters across the river in rafts.

On Friday morning, the search and rescue crews were still on hand, getting fire crews across the water again so they could keep an eye on hot spots.

"There's still some little bit of smoldering going on," Romero said.

At stables next to the river, a couple women were taking care of horses that were in the pens closest to the blaze. "They were in it," owner Rebecca Vance told Eyewitness News. "Their pens were completely burned." She was grateful to others at the stable who immediately got her horses to safety.

Lisa Fennimore said she saw TV reports about the fire, and she rushed over. She is grateful to passers-by who were already helping out.

"There were volunteers, people that don't even have horses," Fennimore said. "They had buckets out there, and they were running out to the pens and pouring water over all the hot spots."

As horses stood in the pens closest to the river bed on Friday, hoses and sprinklers were keeping the danger down. Fennimore said the animals were traumatized by the fire and smoke.

Some horse owners had complained about fires in the same area in the last few days. Romero confirmed there had been a couple blazes a few days before, and some a week before that along the river bed. He estimated there had been four or five fires in the area.

"They're pretty close in range, so that's why the arson unit is really trying to figure out what's going on," he said. Romero said investigators can't confirm if the fires are linked, and there's no word on exactly where they started, or if it's arson.

He said one man was detained Thursday afternoon, but that was by Kern County Sheriff deputies. "Had nothing to do with any portion of the fire," Romero said.

The firefighter said with continued warm weather and dry conditions, the risk continues. Crews working along the river were looking for any hot spots, they don't want any flare-ups.

As for citizens who helped fight the blaze on Thursday, Romero said it's important to stay safe. And it's vital to stay clear of areas where crews need to work, and to follow any directions from firefighters.

Firemen also urge all property-owners to have "defensible space," areas cleared around homes and structures like stables. It's especially important in this dry year.

Meanwhile, arson units from the Bakersfield Fire Department and Kern County are working together investigating Thursday's fires. "They're trying to make sure they find out what happened," Romero said. "And, hopefully we can find out who did this, or if it was somebody that did this."

Anyone with information is urged to call 1-877-FIRE-TIP.