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By Alex Dobuzinskis

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - A fast-moving central California wildfire that more than doubled in size on Friday has killed two people and destroyed 100 structures, authorities said.

Officials were weighing whether to expand evacuation orders in the rural area of the state.

The so-called Erskine Fire broke out on Thursday afternoon in the foothills of Kern County about 42 miles (68 km) northeast of Bakersfield, and three firefighters were hospitalized for smoke inhalation, officials said.


The fire has led hundreds of residents to evacuate and the Kern County Fire Department said on Friday afternoon two people had died, though it did not identify the people or release further details.

High temperatures likely to surpass 90 degrees Fahrenheit (32 degrees Celsius) on Friday and bone-dry vegetation from a five-year California drought were stoking flames.

"Everything is just working into a perfect storm," Kern County fire Captain Mike Nicholas said in a phone interview.

The rapidly expanding blaze 150 miles (241 km) north of Los Angeles has destroyed 100 structures, including homes, outbuildings and detached garages, Nicholas said.

Another 1,500 structures are threatened.

The estimated size of the fire jumped from 8,000 acres (3,237 hectares) early on Friday to more than 19,000 acres (7,689 hectares) before noon local time, Nicholas said.

Morgan Rivers, an evacuee from the blaze, told Los Angeles television station KABC she lost the house that belonged to her late grandmother.

"It's fully mine now and I just lost it after getting it last year," Rivers told the station.

On Friday, authorities warned the more than 3,000 residents of the community of Lake Isabella on the shore of a reservoir to be prepared to evacuate.

A contingent of 600 firefighters was battling the blaze with hundreds more en route, according to the government fire tracking website InciWeb.

"Our firefighters have been engaged in a firefight of epic proportions, trying to save every structure possible," Kern County Fire Department Brian Marshall said at a news conference.

Local television stations showed footage of burned-out lots covered in gray ash, with only the metal frames of benches and virtually unrecognizable appliances not consumed by flames.

The fire did not appear to threaten Sequoia National Forest to the north, Nicholas said.

The blaze, which was 0 percent contained, was one of several large wildfires burning in parched California.

To the south, firefighters were struggling to manage the so-called San Gabriel Complex fire in the foothills of Los Angeles County.

As of Friday, it had burned over 5,600 acres (2,266 hectares) of chaparral and short grass, and containment lines were drawn around 30 percent of its perimeter, according to InciWeb.

(Additional reporting by Laila Kearney in New York, Curtis Skinner in San Francisco, and Eric M. Johnson in Seattle; Editing by Bill Trott and Cynthia Osterman)

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