Isabella | A vast and voracious wildfire that has burned at least 80 homes in central California killed an elderly couple as they tried to flee, authorities said.
The two were outside their house when they were overcome with smoke, Kern County Sheriff Donny Youngblood said at a yesterday evening news conference on the fire that has burned nearly 47 square miles and forced the evacuation of 1,500 homes near Lake Isabella, a popular recreation area east of Bakersfield.
The names of the two dead, whose bodies were found yesterday, have not been released. The sheriff said his department hasn’t been able to search very extensively and would be looking through burned homes with cadaver dogs seeking more possible victims. At least 80 houses were destroyed as the fire leveled neighborhoods and forced thousands to flee. David Klippel, 78, a retired police officer, said he didn’t see much of a threat after receiving an automated call advising him to leave.
That changed dramatically within an hour Thursday afternoon. I’ve never been so close to a fast-moving, ferocious fire. It was unbelievable, said Klippel, who later learned his house had caught fire. I almost didn’t have time to get out. Neighborhoods of mobile homes were charred to their foundations. Gusty winds pushed the flames and smoke farther into drought-starved terrain.
The fire is 5 percent contained. The forces of nature collided with a spark, Kern County Fire Chief Brian Marshall said. The mountainous terrain, five years of drought and wind gusts of over 20 mph all drove a fire over 11 miles in 13 hours. Shiela McFarland, 67, from Mountain Mesa, left her home three days ago, taking her computer, cellphone, papers and her miniature poodle, Snuggles.
At an evacuation center, she slept on a cot outdoors next to his kennel. McFarland said she didn’t know whether her home survived, but she was philosophical. It doesn’t matter if I’ve lost everything, she said today. I’ve got my little dog, my kids and my grandkids. I’ve seen other people in worse shape.
The fire tore through small communities of houses and mobile homes that surround the lake actually a reservoir and the Kern River, a popular spot for fishing and whitewater rafting. The communities are nestled in foothills of the Sierra Nevada, a mountain range that runs hundreds of miles north and south through eastern California.
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