Worn electric line in tree caused deadly, destructive Erskine Fire

FILE - The Erskine Fire burns Thursday, June 23, 2016, in the Lake Isabella, Calif., area. (Photo from Kern County Fire Department)

This summer's deadly and destructive Erskine Fire was caused by an electrical line in a tree, strung between two buildings.

The privately operated electrical line was worn down over time and created a spark in the brush, Kern County Fire Chief Brian Marshall said during a Thursday afternoon news conference.

He said the six-month investigation into the cause of the fire was "exhaustive." They ruled out other common causes, such as lightning strikes or vehicle malfunctions.

Fire officials declined to say if anyone would face criminal charges or be ordered to reimburse firefighting costs.

Shortly after the Fire Department news conference ended, the Kern River Archers confirmed that it operates on the property where the fire started. Kern River Archers subleases the property from the California Department of Fish and Wildlife. The land is owned by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management.

Kern River Archers said it will continue to fully cooperate with investigators. The group said it operates as a nonprofit and has been part of the community for more than 30 years. Kern River Archers' statement, which was issued through law firm Clifford & Brown, reads, in part:

"Our hearts go out to the people and families of the Kern River Valley who have been impacted by the Erskine Fire."

The Erskine Fire ripped through the Kern River Valley in late June, destroying more than 280 homes. Hundreds more were damaged, Marshall said.

An elderly couple was also left dead in the wake of the fire, which blackened nearly 50,000 acres.

The total suppression cost for the blaze was about $23 million. That doesn't count the amount of property damaged in the fire.

Attorneys Shawn Caine and Christopher Sieglock, along with the Law Offices of Kenneth Roye, also said Thursday that they represent more than 200 people who suffered losses in the fire.

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