Kern County Fires Destroy More than 200 Homes

Wildfires across Southern California hit peak levels over the past weekend as more than 5,000 firefighters struggled to contain nine separate fires across 70,000 acres between Bakersfield and San Diego.

The largest is the Erskine fire, concentrated in Kern County and surrounding areas. As of late Monday, the wildfire was reported as only 45% contained and has already spread to more than 45,000 acres, destroying at least 200 homes and killing two people.

Governor Jerry Brown issued a state of emergency for Kern County last week, prompting widespread evacuations and delivering increased aid to the area.

“Anne and I extend our heartfelt sympathies to everyone impacted by this destructive blaze,” Gov. Brown said in a statement. “We join all Californians in expressing our gratitude to the courageous firefighters, emergency personnel and volunteers working tirelessly throughout Kern County to help residents and extinguish this fire.”

Homes around Lake Isabella were some of the hardest hit, as firefighter units struggled to battle flames rapidly fueled by the heat, strong winds, and years of drought conditions that left trees dead and dried.

“The wind, the heat and the low humidity — all that does is just drive a fire,” said Sequoia National Forest spokesperson Geri Jackson. “When the fire initially started, it took off quickly.”

Young and old in Kernville and South Lake, relatively low-income areas, were devastated by the damage to their homes after fires subsided enough to allow some residents to return to the community. In 2010, a new home cost an average $272,900, and many residents may find it difficult to start over.

“Losing a house at age 29, it’s hard,” evacuee Brandi Pettit told ABC News. “I don’t wish this on [anybody].”

Squirrel Valley resident Dudley Bagby, 80, and his wife elected to return to their house despite continued evacuation orders. “She’s coming down with Alzheimer’s and it’s confusing,” he explained. “I got her back in the house now. And it’s not that comfortable, but it’s better than being out someplace else.”

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