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Kern River Valley community organizes support after three homes lost in Lake Isabella fire

Two of the three homes lost were owned by resident Claire Hartley, who is known for her volunteer work
Posted at 6:18 PM, Jul 10, 2024

LAKE ISABELLA, Calif. (KERO) — Claire Hartley was planning to have what is a typical Wednesday for her: Driving pets down to Bakersfield to get spayed and neutered and helping out her neighbor. Then, a fire in Lake Isabella changed everything.

  • Around 4:30 pm on July 9, Kern County Fire Department responded to a fire near the intersection of Reeder Drive and Harnage Street.
  • A total of sixteen pets were killed in the incident.
  • Three homes were destroyed in the incident.


Claire Hartley is known for her volunteer work, whether it’s for the local hospital, the Kern River Valley Art Association or the Red Cross, she happily donates her time to causes she believes in.

“I was going to be taking cats down. At one I'm taking him to the cardiologists, that's how a lot of Wednesdays are, it’s two trips to Bakersfield,” Claire Hartley said.

On Tuesday July 9 at 4:30 the Kern County Fire Department responded to what was initially reported as a vegetation fire.

When they arrived it was a chaotic scene.

“They arrived on scene to see what they said was people materializing out of black smoke as they’re driving in,” said Kern County Fire Department Public Information Officer Jonathan Drucker.

Drucker told me fire crews quickly changed their response once they saw structures on fire.

“He came flying over and just flew through my front door –”

Resident Bradley Rice said his neighbor came over to warn him of a fire nearby, saying —

“‘There’s a fire in the field, there's a fire in the field, the back end of Claire’s house was on fire.’ And I thought ‘Aw crap man.’”

Rice was able to get his cat and evacuate safely –

“Parked down the street here, down Harnage, and just watched my place just go to the ground.”

Claire Hartley's neighbor, Claire Windham, saw minimal damage to her property.

Windham watched the response from the fire department.

“They were here immediately. They worked their butts off to save everything they could save.”

In the end, three houses were destroyed and sixteen pets were killed.

Claire Hartley’s home, her rental property she owned directly next to her, and Rice’s home were destroyed.

“I can’t believe everything is just gone,” said Hartley

Hartley, who wasn’t home when the fire started, helps rescue animals and had thirteen cats.

“The cat tree sorta made it but I don’t think any cats made it,” Hartley said.

Just in case any were able to get out – she put out food and water.

“I want those people to come forth. They come into the store and they get anything that they need for free,” said Donna Canino, Owner of Grab and Bag Community Boutique in Lake Isabella.

Canino is encouraging the community to make some donations like clothes or gift cards at her boutique so she can distribute them to those impacted by recent fires.

“Just help whatever way you can, just help our neighbors because that can be you next and you’re going to want the help too.”

Drucker told me that the Kern County Fire department did not report any suspicious activity that might point to arson and that the cause of the fire is still unknown.

Windham told me she saw the fire initially in the backyard of Hartley’s home, but Hartley told me she believes the fire started in the vacant lot behind her home.

Hartley says she and Bradley Rice spent the night at a friends house, but are unsure what they are going to do long term.

“I don’t know what we’re going to do. We called Isabella Motel and they have a 3 or four night special for only $85 each. So I don’t know,” Hartley said.

“What I’ve been doing all morning is looking around, trying to get hooked up with something. I got to have a physical residence because doctors, all that stuff you know,” Rice said.

Hartley, who is usually the one helping her community, says other residents have been offering help.

“We do live in a great community, so people are always offering help, food, money and lodging, bringing dinner. People have been great about that. We do live in the best community, I already knew that.”

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