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Authorities, residents try to pinpoint origin of the Erskine Fire

A few hot spots flare up in Lake Isabella near an area believed to be the origin of the Erskine Fire. (KBAK/ KBFX photo/ Adam Herbets)

A lot of people in the Kern River Valley have heard rumors about how the Erskine Fire started in Lake Isabella. Arson investigators are continuing to look into it, but they say it's just too early to determine.

Crews reported the fire sparking up at about 4 p.m. last Thursday, June 23, near the intersection of Erskine Creek Road and Apollo Way.

The area is primarily rugged and residential with a few businesses. One of the businesses is a church. The other is an archery range.

One woman, who lives next door, said she is confident it started at the range.

"You can see right where it started," she insisted. "It was a portable toilet, plastic toilet, and it looked like it just went, 'Kaboom!'"

That woman, who declined to give her name, said she spoke to investigators and told them she has surveillance pictures of a potential arson suspect with "melted hands." Since the very first day, she said crews have been at the range working hard and going through the scene.

Firefighters tell us they don't have enough information to pinpoint the exact location, and they are hesitant to confirm that the fire started at the range. Instead, they will only say that it sparked up "near" the archery range and that they want to make sure they're supplying accurate information.

"They said it was a spark and Mother Nature," said Gary Albright. "When I was in Vietnam, they used to drop napalm, and it reminded me of napalm."

Albright said he wanted to get away from the destruction, so he and a few others have been staying on the shore of the lake. He lives in Squirrel Valley, one of the hardest hit communities, almost a dozen miles away from the fire's origin.

"It was tiny. It was tiny. It looked like a barbecue," said Bruce Worley, who was also staying at the lake. "It looked like it was a barbecue pit with smoke coming up, at first."

Capt. Tyler Townsend of the Kern County Fire Department said investigators are making good progress, but he doesn't have a timetable on when he would have information that could be released publicly. He speculated it could be weeks or months before they are confident on the origin of the fire.

If the Erskine Fire was set intentionally, the person who set it could be charged with murder.

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