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Threat eases as deadly blaze burns away from homes in Kern County.

LAKE ISABELLA, Kern County — A wild­fire that killed two peo­ple and de­stroyed 200 homes in the south­ern Sierra Ne­vada burned away from neigh­bor­hoods Mon­day, clear­ing the way for some res­i­dents to re­turn to homes that sur­vived the sav­age flames.

The fire grew to more than 70 square miles, but was it 40 per­cent con­tained as it burned in steep ter­rain south of Lake Isabella. Houses could be vul­ner­a­ble if winds blow the fire back to­ward some of the com­mu­ni­ties in the pop­u­lar re­cre­ation area, Fire Chief Brian Mar­shall said.

“There’s still more threats out there,” Mar­shall said. “This is go­ing to go down as the most de­struc­tive wild­fire in Kern County his­tory.”

Ca­daver dogs searched through the rub­ble of dev­as­tated neigh­bor­hoods for more pos­si­ble ca­su­al­ties, though re­mains found over the week­end were iden­ti­fied as an an­i­mal, sher­iff ’s spokesman Ray Pruitt said.

The cause of the fire re­mains un­der investigation. A man with two guns was ar­rested Sun­day in a manda­tory evac­u­a­tion area, though fur­ther de­tails weren’t avail­able, Pruitt said.

The fire be­gan Thurs­day and quickly ex­ploded in dry brush and bore down on small com­mu­ni­ties of houses and mo­bile homes that sur­round Lake Isabella, a dammed sec­tion of the scenic Kern River pop­u­lar for fish­ing, white­wa­ter raft­ing and other out­door ac­tiv­i­ties.

Ter­ri­fy­ing flames ar­rived with lit­tle warn­ing and res­i­dents, many el­derly, had to flee amid heavy smoke. “Peo­ple were es­cap­ing barely within an inch of their lives,” Mar­shall said.

The bod­ies of an el­derly cou­ple, ap­par­ently over­come by smoke, were found Fri­day. Their names have not been re­leased.

In ad­di­tion to the de­stroyed homes, an­other 75 were dam­aged. Evac­u­a­tions were still in place Mon­day, but res­i­dents who lived in ar­eas with lim­ited fire dam­age were be­ing al­lowed to re­turn.

“Most peo­ple here, this is all they had,” said Daniel O’Brien, 53, who lost two rental mo­bile homes. “You have these mo­ments where you just want to break down cry­ing and fall apart.”

The fire was the most dam­ag­ing blaze in Cal­i­for­nia, but it is just one of many that have burned large swaths of the arid West dur­ing hot weather.

Gov. Jerry Brown de­clared a state of emer­gency to free up funds for fire­fight­ing and cleanup. The Fed­eral Emer­gency Man­age­ment Agency also au­tho­rized funds for fire­fight­ing ef­forts.

Rich Pedroncelli / As­so­ci­ated Press

Lu­cas Martin picks through at all that re­mains of his fire rav­aged home in the com­mu­nity of South Lake.

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