Environment & Science

Private power line sparked Lake Isabella's Erskine Fire

A photo from the Kern County Fire Department shows a new wildfire that broke out late Thursday, June 23, 2016, quickly tearing through dozens of homes and prompting evacuations.
A photo from the Kern County Fire Department shows a new wildfire that broke out late Thursday, June 23, 2016, quickly tearing through dozens of homes and prompting evacuations.
Kern County Fire Department

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Something as simple as a power line rubbing itself bare on a tree limb during a hot, windy day caused the Erskine Fire in late June, one of California's worst-ever wildfires. It was the kind of mishap that, along with other power line problems, cause about four percent of fires in territory overseen by CalFire, analyst Alisha Herring said Friday.

The Erskine Fire killed two people, burned 280 homes and damaged hundreds of other structures in the Lake Isabella area east of Bakersfield in Kern County.

The land where the fast-moving fire started is owned by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, but a private archery club called the Kern River Archers was using the property in a deal with the state's Department of Fish and Wildlife.    

The power line was a privately maintained line running between two buildings. The line had been rubbing on a tree for some time until "a catastrophic electrical arc occurred and hot molten material dropped into the grass,"  Kern County Fire Chief Brian Marshall said in a news conference Thursday.
    
Because the land is federally owned, the BLM will take over the investigation, Marshall said. It could be months before they decide who, if anyone, should be charged fire recovery costs or face criminal charges.
    
Power line malfunctions that cause fires are not uncommon. CalFire says they caused 260 of 6,099 wildfires in its territory in 2015.

Erskine Fire information