Firefighters make headway against central California wildfire

Fire crews say they are making progress against the blaze that has killed two people and destroyed some 200 homes.

Ryan Babroff/AP
A Kern County firefighter sets a backfire by a wildfire burning near Lake Isabella, Calif. on Friday. Dozens of homes burned to the ground as a wildfire raged over ridges and tore through rural communities in central California, authorities said.

Thousands of firefighters continue to battle a raging wildfire in central California that has destroyed 200 homes and killed at least two people. 

Since it began Thursday, the fire has swept through small communities of houses and mobile homes surrounding Lake Isabella, many belonging to retirees on fixed incomes. 

"Most people here, this is all they had," Daniel O'Brien, who lost two rental mobile homes, told the Associated Press. "You have these moments where you just want to break down crying and fall apart." 

The bodies of one unnamed elderly couple who were apparently overcome by smoke while trying to flee were recovered on Friday. Cadaver dogs were brought in on Sunday to search for more remains. 

A state of emergency for Kern County was declared on Friday by Gov. Jerry Brown, who in a statement expressed his "gratitude to the courageous firefighters, emergency personnel and volunteers working tirelessly throughout Kern County to help residents and extinguish this fire." 

Around 2,000 firefighters were working to contain the fire and prevent the death toll from rising. 

"Firefighters from all agencies…have been engaged in a firefight of epic proportions trying to save every structure possible," said Kern County Fire Chief Brian Marshall at a news conference Friday morning. "In a situation like this, there’s not enough fire trucks and firefighters to put in front of every structure…they’re working whole neighborhoods."

Containment of the fire had increased from 10 percent to 40 percent by Sunday evening, according to federal fire officials.

Authorities say the 68-square-mile blaze was the result of years of drought, combined with high temperatures and strong winds. 

"All those things contributed to the rapid spread and erratic fire behavior," Kern County Fire Department Capt. Mike Nicholas told the Los Angeles Times. "We’ve had lots of big incidents. This one’s pretty bad though."

This report contains material from the Associated Press. 

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