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What happened to the couple who died in the Erskine Fire?

A photo from the Kern County Fire Department last week shows a wildfire that tore through dozens of homes and prompted evacuations.
A photo from the Kern County Fire Department last week shows a wildfire that tore through dozens of homes and prompted evacuations.
Kern County Fire Department

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The Erskine Fire near Bakersfield has claimed 285 homes, and so far two lives. The Kern County Sheriff's office has identified Byron McKaig and a woman who is believed to be his wife Gladys.

Their bodies were found late last week outside the couple's home in Lake Isabella, California outside of Bakersfield. 

The fire, which is still not 100 percent contained, is the most destructive so far this year in California. As of Friday morning, it had consumed nearly 48,000 acres.

Thomas Hunt, the pastor at the McKaig's church, remembers them as good people. 

"He was a good fellow," Hunt said, remembering Byron who, he said, was a former priest at St. Peter's in Kernville. "He loved to talk about religion."

Hunt said the couple had struggled in the their final years with health problems and home repairs like a broken refrigerator. The couple, Hunt said, ate out often at fast food restaurants around town.

Hunt spoke with Byron on the phone shortly before the fire took over. 

"He called me, I don't remember exactly the time of day, and he said 'There's a lot of smoke coming in, in the house,' and what not. And then he hung up. I didn't have a chance to respond or nothing to him," Hunt said. "He was quite disturbed about it, and I don't understand why he hung up right after that." 

During the phone call, Hunt didn't realize how bad the fire was. He said several church members live near the couple's home, but to his knowledge, no one went to check on them. 

That call may well have been the couple's last. 

The coroner's office report said they were found the morning of June 24. Byron, it seemed, had been protecting Gladys. A neighbor reportedly found the couple after they'd died and saw Byron laying on top of his wife. 

"They collapsed by the fence in their yard, and they died hugging each other," Hunt said.

A service is planned at the couple's church, St.Peter's in Kernville, on Sunday morning at 10 a.m. and a memorial is tentatively scheduled for July 23. Information is available online.

Firetracker: Erskine Fire

Correction: The name of the Erskine Fire was spelled incorrectly in a previous version of this post. KPCC regrets the error.