All Erskine Fire evacuees allowed to return, no more deaths discovered

Thank you signs for firefighters and Southern California Edison are seen Tuesday, June 28, 2016, in a South Lake neighborhood in the wake of the Erskine Fire. (KBAK/KBFX photo/Kalyna Astrinos)

BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KBAK/KBFX) - Cadaver dogs have finished their searches of the Erskine Fire-ravaged neighborhoods, and no more deaths were discovered, according to the Kern County Office of Emergency Services.

Also Tuesday, the final evacuees -- those from South Lake and Squirrel Valley -- were let back into their neighborhoods. Evacuees started going home Monday in Yankee Canyon, Mountain Mesa and communities east of South Lake.

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The Erskine Fire was burning 46,684 acres Tuesday night with 60 percent containment. Fire officials predicted full containment by Thursday.

Kern County Fire Chief Brian Marshall on Monday said this was the "most destructive wildfire to go down in Kern County history." The Kern County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday issued an emergency declaration.

"The human tragedy in this deal is, is breathtaking," Supervisor Mick Gleason said.

The fire started last Thursday, June 23, and spread rapidly because of high winds and dry brush. The cause of the fire remains under investigation.

More than 250 structures, mostly homes, were destroyed. Seventeen more structures are damaged, according to fire officials.

Two people were found dead in the fire's wake, apparently overcome by smoke as they tried to escape, according to Sheriff Donny Youngblood. There were fears of at least a third fatality over the weekend after remains were found in South Lake, but the coroner's office ruled those were animal remains.

The fire is now burning in unpopulated wildland southeast of the neighborhoods left in destruction.

Power is still out in South Lake, Squirrel Valley, Yankee Canyon and Mountain Mesa. Bottled water is also being made available for residents, though the State Water Board has canceled the "boil water notice" in South Lake, Squirrel Valley, Mountain Mesa and Onyx.

Southern California Edison is working to restore all power, as 123 of more than 200 distribution poles and 14 of 30 transmission poles damaged by the fire have been replaced, according to the Office of Emergency Services.

A transition center is open 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. at Wallace Middle School, 3240 Erskine Creek Road in Lake Isabella. A call center was set up to help fire victims at 661-873-2660, operating 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. daily.

Kern County health officials are warning residents of the hazards of digging through debris and ash. Synthetic and hazardous materials, such as gasoline, cleaning products, pesticides and other household chemicals, could be in the rubble.

Some roads off of Highway 178 remain closed: Entrada, McCray, Dogwood, Kelso Valley Road and Kelso Creek Road.

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