Local News

Friday, May 27 2011 02:00 PM

Update: Wildfire near Lake Isabella spreads past 1,300 acres

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    By Casey Christie / The Californian

    The U.S. Forest Service Breckenridge Hotshot fire crew gear up for work on the wildfire, in the Weldon area, Friday, near Lake Isabella.

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    By Casey Christie / The Californian

    Kern County Fire Captain Chad Carson was cooling off hotspots during Friday's wildfire along Highway 178 near Joughin Cove.

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    By Casey Christie / The Californian

    With Isabella Lake in the foreground the smoke from Friday's wildfire is seen heading towards Sierra Way, in an easterly direction. Firefighters from multiple agencies responded and one of the biggest concerns was the extreme wind conditions.

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    By Casey Christie / The Californian

    Kern County firefighters and volunteers saved several of the small cabins at the KOA campground during the wildfire, Friday, in the Weldon area.

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    By Casey Christie / The Californian

    Kern County firefighters along with a couple of volunteers work on the perimeter of the KOA campground in Weldon to prevent Friday's wildfire from reaching any of the small cabins there.

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    By Casey Christie / The Californian

    A man who didn't want to be identified, right, helped save several small cabins at the KOA campground in Weldon, Friday, as a wildfire swept through the area. Here he offers Kern County firefighter Zak Geissel some water or Gatorade after Geissel had been working on the fire, east of Lake Isabella.

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    By Casey Christie / The Californian

    Kern County firefighter Zak Geissel from a station in Rosedale hits some hot spots on Friday's wildfire in the Weldon area. Due to extreme winds the fire swept through the area rapidly.

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By COURTENAY EDELHART and JASON KOTOWSKI, Californian staff writers cedelhart@bakersfield.com; jkotowski@bakersfield.com

SOUTH LAKE — An uncontrolled wildfire here grew past 1,300 acres Friday night, forcing the evacuation of more than 400 homes around this community near Lake Isabella.

The blaze prompted one-way California Highway Patrol escorts for a two-mile stretch along Highway 178 between Entrada Boulevard and Poplar Street, according to Cindy Thill, U.S. Forest Service fire information officer.

The Cove Fire, reported at 12:34 p.m. near Joughin Ranch, west of Kissack Cove, was 25 percent contained as of Friday night, said Sean Collins, Kern County Fire Department spokesman.

The fire, at 1,356 acres Friday evening, is in the Riparian Wildlife area.

Strong winds pushed the flames eastward into heavier trees. Winds whipped so intensely that helicopters couldn’t go into the area to drop water, Collins said.

Tomas Matza and his wife, of San Francisco, were driving in from Kernville intending to take their two children camping in the Lone Pine area when they spotted a wall of fire roaring down a hillside with ominous black smoke above it.

“I saw it and it was big,” he said. “We were hoping that wasn’t where we were headed but we had a sneaking suspicion that it was. It was dark. It was one of those big nature events that you know the minute you see it.”

The couple eventually hit a roadblock at Highway 178 and Poplar Street. As of 5 p.m., they had been there about an hour and a half along with roughly three dozen other vehicles parked along side streets.

About 200 Kern County firefighters worked to fight the fire, along with crews from the Bureau of Land Management and the U.S. Forest Service.

About 100 homes were threatened, prompting the evacuations, which were lifted about 8 p.m. One home — where a wedding was being planned — had roof and patio damage, Thill said.

Evacuations were in the Mountain Mesa area, according to a news release from the Kern Chapter of the American Red Cross. The Red Cross opened a shelter at the Lake Isabella Senior Center, 6405 Lake Isabella Blvd., but it was closed Friday night.

No injuries had been reported.

The cause of the fire is under investigation.

At the roadblock Friday afternoon, most motorists sat in their cars listening to the radio, hoping for a bit of news. A few stepped out to commiserate with fellow travelers, occasionally shielding their eyes from the sun as they tried to peer east where black smoke continued to curl up to the sky.

Pam Hunt, 50, of South Lake, paced anxiously as she worried about three dogs and two cats home alone beyond the roadblock.

“I just want to get home to my animals,” she said.

Hunt was particularly concerned after speaking with a friend who called her from the High Sierra Wild Horse Sanctuary, home to about 60 horses.

Her friend had said some of the horses had been injured after they smelled smoke and became frantic.

“They get excited and frightened when they see fire and smell smoke, just like me,” Hunt said.

Marian Baird, 76, got trapped at the roadblock with her husband after attempting to return home to South Lake from a Bakersfield Costco where they had been grocery shopping.
“We can’t go home,” she lamented, wrinkling her brow.

Asked if she was worried about her house, Baird responded, “You always get real concerned when the wind’s blowing like this.”

Wind speeds were measured at 30 mph with gusts up to 45 mph, National Weather Service meteorologist Kevin Durfee said. High winds are expected to be a problem throughout the weekend, he said.

Sandra Alvarez, 42, works as a housekeeper in Kernville. Her husband had called and said to hurry home to South Lake because “something really scary is happening.”

Alvarez called him Friday afternoon to tell him she was stuck at the roadblock and then waited with other stranded motorists hoping for the best.

“I wish I could just get home to my family,” she said.

People may call 211 for evacuation information, according to the fire department.

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