A raging wildfire consumed an estimated 5,000 acres in the Lake Isabella area Thursday evening, burning an estimated 80 structures and threatening another 1,500 as it marched toward Onyx, fire officials said.
The cause of the blaze burning south of Highway 178 and north of Erskine Creek Road wasn’t known. More than 350 firefigheters were at the scene; hundreds more were summoned.
Fire officials reported “approximately 80 structures have been lost” via their InciWeb incident information system. On its Facebook page, the Kern County Fire Department described the structures as “homes” earlier in the evening when the number was pegged at 50 to 60 structures.
Two firefighters suffered smoke inhalation injuries, InciWeb reported shortly after 11 p.m.
Shortly before 10 p.m. Thursday, officials updated the fire statistics from the 2,500 acres that had been reported for hours.
When the fire was initially reported at about 4 p.m. near Erskine Creek Road and Apollo Way, it was two acres and moving uphill in steep terrain.
Hot weather, hot winds, drought conditions and low fuel moisture — meaning the brush and trees have low moisture content making them more susceptible to fire conditions — contributed to what firefighters faced, KCFD Capt. Mike Nichols said.
People outside the area of the fire area were urged to stay away.
“We don’t want any additional traffic in there. We have emergency vehicles all over the place,” Nichols said.
Road closures were reported for Highway 178, Highway 155 and Sierra Way.
The InciWeb system reported evacuations were in effect for Bella Vista, South Fork, Weldon, Onyx, Lakeland Estates, Mountain Mesa, South Lake, Squirrel Valley and Yankee Canyon.
As of about 8:30 p.m., the fire was moving toward Onyx.
A Type 1 incident fire team was ordered, said Wendy Russ, an administrative specialist for the U.S. Forest Service.
Power was out in the Lake Isabella area and AT&T cellular service was not working, KCFD said on its Facebook page. Power lines were also reported to be down, Russ said.
Both the Bureau of Land Management and the KCFD are serving as incident commanders, the InciWeb site reported.
Evacuation centers have been set up at Kern Valley High School, Kernville Elementary School and Lake Isabella Senior Center. At one point Kern Valley Hospital was reported to have been evacuated to South Fork school. However, later in the evening a person at the hospital answered the phone but said nobody was available to speak to the media.
A 10:32 p.m. Red Cross news release said its shelter was moving from the Kern River Valley Senior Center to Kernville Elementary at 13350 Sierra Way.
“Our volunteers have been working to provide lodging, meals, and comfort to affected residents,” Red Cross Executive Director Barry Falke said in the news release. “This fire is affecting hundreds of families, and the local Red Cross disaster team has risen to the occasion.”
It went on to say financial donations are the best way to help. Go to redcross.org/donate.
Comments left on the Kern County Fire Department Facebook page expressed a mix of prayers, concern and desperation for more information.
“Wow. How awful. Praying for the community, and the first responders!” wrote Katherine Stafford Burnett.
Said Nicole Chartier Nehoral, “This is just awful! Poor people who lost their homes!”
A woman named Pam Cooper wrote, “My sons in mt. mesa called from landline very short said they lost everything or was about to lose everything, anyone know of structures gone in that area cant reach him now.”
Californian photographer Casey Christie contributed to this report.