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Wildfire roars through central California

June 26, 2016

Strong winds are driving the flames, which continue to burn out of control on land parched by five years of drought. Entire neighborhoods have been reduced to charred rubble, and 2,500 more homes are at risk.

Two firefighters are in silhouette as they walk at night in front of flames from a California wildfire.
Image: picture-alliance/Zuma/C. Christie

A massive wildfire that has killed at least two people and destroyed 150 homes in central California continues to burn out of control.

Entire neighborhoods of Lake Isabella have been reduced to charred rubble, and at least 2,500 more homes remain threatened.

About 1,100 firefighters are battling the blaze, which broke out Thursday. It has since swept through more than 35,700 acres (14,400 hectares), or nearly 56 square miles (145 sq. km) of dry brush.

The flames are being pushed by steady 30 mph winds, leaving people little time to evacuate - and at least two didn't. An elderly couple was overcome by smoke as they tried to flee, according to county Sheriff Donny Youngblood. Their bodies were found on Friday.

The strong winds are a major source of concern for officials like Kern County fire Engineer Anthony Romero.

"That's something we have to keep an eye on," he said. "It could spark another disaster."

Governor Jerry Brown declared a state of emergency, which will free up money and resources to fight the fire and to clean up the remnants.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency also authorized the use of funds for firefighting efforts.

Everett Evans, 45, was among those who fled on Thursday as the fire roared down a mountain toward his South Lake mobile home.

"When you hear a freight train, it's time to leave," he said. "You could hear it, you could see it, you could smell it."

The flames tore through small communities of houses and mobile homes surrounding the lake and the Kern River, which is a popular spot for fishing and whitewater rafting.

The communities are nestled in foothills of the Sierra Nevada, a mountain range that runs hundreds of miles north-to-south through eastern California.

Scorching heat and tinder-dry conditions across the West have sparked massive wildfires in the past week that have destroyed properties and sent residents scurrying for shelter.

bik/bk (AP, Reuters)