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UPDATED: Day 2: French Fire continues burning, 5 percent containment | News

LAKE ISABELLA — The French Fire, a conflagration west of Lake Isabella, grew beyond 3,223 acres and was 5 percent contained at 7:42 p.m. Thursday, according to the Kern County Fire Department.

Evacuation orders were issued for Wagy Flat Road, east of Lake Isabella, between Old State Road south to Keysville. Additionally, residents of the area of Wofford Heights, Rancheria Road east to Wofford Boulevard, between Highway 155 and south to Old State Road must also evacuate.

The Bureau of Land Management also closed the Keysville Special Recreation Management Area. The KCFD announced an evacuation order for individuals residing south of Keysville, from the intersection of Black Gulch Road and Forest Route 26S06, continuing east to Highway 155.

Many neighbors’ homes were destroyed, said resident Mary Nowakowski, whose home was not reached by the flames.

The KFCD reported a 50-acre fire before 6 p.m. Wednesday; the flames grew to 900 acres by 7:34 p.m., according to a Twitter post by the KCFD. By 9:16 p.m. Wednesday, the fire consumed 2,155 acres. The containment level for the fire has not budged above 0 percent, according to the KCFD.

Windy conditions could make the flames difficult to control, said Erica Bain, the public information officer for the Kern County Fire Department. Trucks from the BLM, LA County Fire Department and U.S. National Forest aided the KCFD on Thursday. 

Hazy smoke thinly veiled the outskirts of Bakersfield; smoke shrouded the twists and turns through the Kern River Valley into Lake Isabella. Mountains in the distance became faint outlines, the shrubbery and trees dotting the surface nearly indistinguishable. Loud whirs sounded near Isabella Lake as helicopters occasionally descended to gather water and then flew off toward the smoke.

Plumes of light brown smoke, closest to the flames, marred the usual blue skies outside the Red Cross temporary evacuation site located at Kern River Valley Senior Center. The organization arrived Wednesday night and supplied four people with resources, said Cindy Huge, the public information officer for the Red Cross.

Four people arrived Thursday morning to use the site. The Red Cross offers services for pets as well, Huge said.

As of 1:52 p.m. Thursday, one resident was actively using the services. The center remains open for anyone struggling to breathe or who has lost basic necessities, Huge said.

“We will not leave until the county says it’s safe for us to leave,” Huge said.

Kern County Public Health Services Supervising Public Health Nurse Elaine Anthony said that inhaling smoke can cause serious problems for individuals with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease because their lungs cannot process air efficiently. She recommends wearing a mask and limiting outdoor activity for at-risk individuals.

Kyle Trampus, an area resident for 10 years, arrived at the Red Cross temporary evacuation center Thursday. She said she saw flames crawling to her house Wednesday night, moving swiftly because of the dangerous winds.

“Thank God for the fire department,” Trampus said. “They are so quick and know exactly what to do to get this handled with the least amount of homes going up. … I’ve never seen anything like this department here in Kern County.”

Despite living in a region susceptible to flames, Trampus considers this area her home. She wouldn’t want to live anywhere else and prays that her possessions remain untouched.

“The thought of losing your family valuables and just losing everything and having to start over again … is difficult,” Trampus said.

The community supports Trampus during these difficult times, lending another reason to her calling the town her home. 

“We all look out for each other on a daily basis,” Trampus said. “We have a pretty good network up there of friends and people that we’ve known for a long time.”

Nowakowski said firefighters came down her street and ordered them all to evacuate. She managed to grab her three cats and tossed clothes, medicines and other miscellaneous items into her bag.

“I can’t tell you what’s there,” Nowakowski said. “The first thing was to get my animals safe.”

Nowakowski built the house that she left behind. As of 10:51 a.m. Thursday, her house still stood, she said. She prays to the Lord that her belongings will survive. However, she is prepared to rebuild if all is lost.

“We are not quitters,” Nowakowski said. “We broke ground (once) — (we) break ground again. … This is home. These people are my family.”

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