California Wildfire Death Toll Rises To 4 As More Bodies Found

The other deaths from the blazes were a priest and his wife, found on Friday.

By Dan Whitcomb

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Two bodies were found on Wednesday in a rural area of San Diego County left charred by a major wildfire, sheriff's officials said, as firefighters increasingly gained control over a larger blaze that also killed two people in central California. 

The remains were discovered on private property in the Potrero area that had been subject to a mandatory evacuation order as flames from the so-called Border Fire approached, San Diego County Sheriff's spokeswoman Jan Caldwell said.

Caldwell said coroner's investigators were trying to determine the identities of the deceased.

Two people, who had been living in an outbuilding on the property and acting as caretakers, had been reported missing earlier this week.

The Border Fire, which broke out on June 19, has blackened more than 7,600 acres in southern San Diego County near the Mexican border. As of Wednesday afternoon it was 95 percent contained.

In central California, crews had cut containment lines around 60 percent of the so-called Erskine fire, which was burning in the drought-parched foothills near Lake Isabella in Kern County, about 110 miles (180 km) north of Los Angeles, fire managers said.

A major highway through the area had been reopened and more evacuees had been allowed to return home, authorities said.

Some 1,800 firefighters were battling the blaze that has burned about 47,000 acres, killed two people and destroyed more than 250 structures since it erupted on Thursday, becoming the largest and most destructive in an already intense California fire season.

Crews will work to strengthen containment lines and extinguish spot fires started by potentially strong winds through the day, the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, or Cal Fire, said on its Inciweb website.

There is a 20 percent chance of rain showers on Wednesday in the area, which could aid crews, but fire-starting dry lightning strikes are also possible, Cal Fire said.

The two victims of the Erskine fire, found on Friday just beyond the ruins of their home, were identified by the Anglican Diocese of San Joaquin as a priest and his wife, Byron and Gladys McKaig.

Authorities have said more victims could be found once crews are able to more closely inspect fire-ravaged areas.

The California wildfire season officially began in May but the nine major fires that have started in the state over the past week marked the first widespread outbreak of intense fires this year.

(Reporting by Brendan O'Brien, Laila Kearney and Dan Whitcomb; Editing by Frances Kerry and David Gregorio)



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