The California wildfire which recently devastated the Erskine area of Kern County, about 40 miles northeast of Bakersfield, was large enough to be seen from space by a NASA satellite, having burned more than 43,000 acres.
The Erskine fire is being blamed for the deaths of an Anglican priest and his wife and for the destruction of more than 250 homes since it began. Altogether, the wildfire has burned more than 48,000 acres of land, requiring the services of almost 2,000 firefighters, according to InciWeb. Although some residents of more than half a dozen communities in Kern County have been allowed to return to their homes after evacuating ahead of the fire, many areas may still be without power or water.
More homes are expected to burn as the blaze continues to devour areas of rural communities in the southern Sierra Nevada region. Houses could be vulnerable if winds blow the fire back toward some of the communities in this popular recreation area, according to local Fire Chief Brian Marshall.
“This is going to go down as the most destructive wildfire in Kern County history.” – Brian Marshall, Kern County Fire Chief
At more than 70 square miles, the Erskine blaze is California’s largest and most destructive wildfire this year. US Forest Service officials have indicated that windy conditions, as well as a larger-than-usual rainfall from El Nino, contributed to the explosive spread of the flames. (See related article, “California Drought Breeding More Wildfires.”)
Kern County Fire Capt. Tyler Townsend told the Associated Press that he had never seen a wildfire burn so many homes. “It’s one of the most devastating I’ve ever seen,” he said. The cause of the fire is still under investigation.
In the small, tight-knit community of South Lake, more than 100 trailers and houses were burned in a square-mile area. This had some low-income residents convinced that protecting wealthier communities was a higher priority of first responders.
But Kern County Fire Department spokesman Anthony Romero informed them that “There’s not any fire department anywhere in the world that would be able to catch a fire going that fast (40 to 50 mph). “
No one is less important here,” he said. “Unfortunately, this fire was too big, too fast for us to get in front of.”
More than 2,500 homes have been threatened by the Erskine fire, and authorities say they fear more victims may be found as crews comb through neighborhoods that were burned to the ground.
Weather predictions of more scorching heat will likely continue to fuel this deadly blaze and complicate efforts to control it.
Kern County Sheriff Donny Youngblood indicated that the department will be going back through the rubble, using cadaver dogs.
“We don’t know if there are other victims that were unable to escape this fire,” he said.