BREAKING NEWS: 2 dead, homes lost in Lake Isabella wildfire

Firefighters put out a spot fire as they continue to battle a wildfire burning along Highway 178 near Lake Isabella, Calif., Friday, June 24, 2016. The wildfire that roared across dry brush and trees in the mountains of central California gave residents little time to flee as flames burned homes to the ground, propane tanks exploded and smoke obscured the path to safety. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

NOTE: This story is updated as of 7 p.m., Friday, June 24.


LAKE ISABELLA, Calif. (KBAK/KBFX) - Two people have been found dead in a wildfire that has destroyed about 100 structures, mostly homes, in the Lake Isabella area, according to authorities.

The two people were found dead outside a burned home on the 3800 block of McCray Road, between Lake Isabella and South Lake. Sheriff Donny Youngblood said it looked as if the people tried to escape but were overcome by smoke.

He also said his department will use cadaver dogs to search for more victims in the burned homes.

Three firefighters have also been taken to a hospital after suffering smoke inhalation, according to the InciWeb interagency fire information website.

The blaze, named the Erskine Fire, is burning about 30,000 acres with 5 percent containment. This is California's largest wildfire so far this year, according to the National Weather Service.

Friday afternoon, Gov. Jerry Brown declared a state of emergency.

"Anne and I extend our heartfelt sympathies to everyone impacted by this destructive blaze," Brown said in a news release. "We join all Californians in expressing our gratitude to the courageous firefighters, emergency personnel and volunteers working tirelessly throughout Kern County to help residents and extinguish this fire."

The proclamation frees up money and resources for the firefight and the aftermath of the blaze. It also temporarily suspends some state regulations and waives fees as a way to ease the return of evacuees and those who have lost homes.

Evacuations are in effect for Bella Vista, South Fork, Weldon, Onyx, Lakeland Estates, Mountain Mesa, South Lake, Squirrel Valley and Yankee Canyon. Residents in the Lake Isabella and Erskine Creek area are advised to prepare for possible evacuation.

Evacuation centers are set up at Kernville Elementary School, 13350 Sierra Way in Kernville, and St. Jude's Catholic Church, 86 Nellie Dent Drive in Wofford Heights.

Teresa Magee, of South Lake, is one of those evacuees and said she believes her home was lost. She and her husband watched the flames approach before escaping.

"We went outside, and it was nothing but clouds clouds of smoke," she described. "Within 15 minutes, it turned from clouds to black."

Incident information for the public, within Kern County, can be obtained by calling 211.

INFO ON EVACUEES | Red Cross Safe and Well website

Around 1,500 more structures are threatened, according to fire officials.

Kern Valley Hospital said Friday afternoon it was closing and evacuating patients. Spokeswoman Deborah Heff said the hospital, which has 24 acute care beds in Mt. Mesa, was under a boil-water notice and having a hard time getting needed supplies.

Hwy. 178 is closed at Highway 155 and Sierra Way.

The Pacific Crest Trail is closed from Walker Basin Campground to Jawbone Canyon Road.

The fire started just before 4 p.m. Thursday on public lands and quickly exploded in size, fueled by wind, heat and low humidity.

"We've lost a lot of homes," Kern County Fire Capt. Tyler Townsend said in a Facebook Live video Thursday evening. "More than any fire I can remember, in the last several years."

A wind advisory is in effect for the Kern County mountains, including the location of the Erskine Fire, until 5 a.m. Saturday, according to the National Weather Service.

Smoke from this and other California wildfires prompted an air quality alert as far away as Las Vegas.

There are 800 firefighters on scene, with more on their way. Six air tankers and seven helicopters are fighting the flames from the sky, according to authorities.

There have been outages for electricity and AT&T cellular service in the area. Southern California Edison reports about 3,000 of its customers are without service because of the fire.

In a statement to Eyewitness News, AT&T said, "Some customers in Bakersfield and the surrounding areas may experience issues with their landline, wireless and internet services as a result of the Erskine Fires. Our network technicians are prepped and awaiting access to the impacted area to assess the damage and begin restoration efforts. We apologize for any inconvenience."

The Bureau of Land Management, U.S. Forest Service and KCFD are all on incident command.

The California Office of Emergency Services announced a grant from the Federal Emergency Management Agency to help in the fight against the Erskine Fire.

Authorities haven't said what caused the fire.


Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.

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