A massive wildfire burning out of control in the foothills of central California has left at least 150 homes in ruins and damaged another 75, officials said on Saturday, warning that more residents may be forced to flee the advancing flames.
The so-called Erskine fire, which broke out on Thursday some 64 km northeast of Bakersfield in Kern County, has already claimed at least two lives, sent three firefighters to the hospital and forced thousands of people to evacuate their homes.
More than 1,100 firefighters have been deployed to battle the blaze, which has blackened some 35,700 acres and was zero percent contained as of Saturday afternoon. California Governor Jerry Brown has declared a state of emergency for Kern County.
"It is a vicious wildfire. We are going to be committed to this for some time," Captain Tyler Townsend of the Kern County Fire Department told CNN. "A lot of communities are still in danger."
Crews were working in steep, rugged terrain, fighting flames that were fueled by hot, dry weather and brush, grass and chaparral left bone dry by California's devastating five-year drought.
Officials have not identified the two people killed in the huge conflagration, one of the worst in an already intense fire season in California.
The Los Angeles Times reported that investigators had found what they believed to be the remains of a third victim at a mobile home in the community of South Lake.
"We are treating it like a crime scene. It appears to be one set of human remains, pretty badly burned," Kern County Sheriff's spokesman Ray Pruitt told the paper.
Kern County Sheriff Donny Youngblood told a Friday evening press conference that more fatalities could be discovered once authorities are able to search burned-out neighborhoods with cadaver dogs.
Authorities say the cause of the fire remains unknown.
On Friday, authorities warned the more than 3,000 residents of the community of Lake Isabella on the shore of a reservoir to be prepared to evacuate.