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Kern County Fire Department explains how firefighters helped save homes during the French Fire

French Fire, Lake Isabella, August 19, 2021
Posted at 5:33 PM, Aug 31, 2021
and last updated 2021-08-31 20:34:07-04

LAKE ISABELLA, Calif. (KERO) — Crews continue to make progress on extinguishing the French Fire. As of Tuesday evening, the fire stands at 25,643 acres burned but containment has also grown to 40 percent. So far no injuries reported.

And as containment grows, we're seeing the evacuation map continue to change. Wofford Heights remains under an evacuation warning after being under an evacuation order for several days. The evacuation warnings for Kernville and Glenville are no longer in place.

French Fire Evacuation Map

Evacuation orders remain in place for the communities of Alta Sierra and part of Pala Ranches among others.

One evacuation center remains open at the Woodrow Wallace Elementary School in Lake Isabella, where they are providing food, water, and shelter for those in need. That center is located at 3240 Erskine Creek Road.

As fire crews continue to get a handle on the French Fire residents are returning home. But, fire officials told 23ABC some homes are still standing because of the previous work from fire crews and homeowners.

One week ago, fire crews said the French Fire made an aggressive run in the community of Pala but the community is still standing. This is due to the defensible space from homeowners and the fuel reduction program from the fire department.

“Without those fuels reductions in this area I would say there’s a high likelihood that those homes would’ve burned because those fuels were gonna be right up next to the homes,” said Jim Calhoun Battalion Chief for Kern County Fire Department.

Calhoun said it was the work of previous Kern County Firefighters that played an essential role in the success of the French Fire.

“The effort that was put forth in the handline, held because of Crew 79’s fuel reduction program that we had up here for years. It was essential, and it’s not even debatable,” said Calhoun.

KCFD Division Chief Andrew Kennison explained how fuel reduction works.

“Coming down to the ground, we’ll remove the brush, and then it requires maintenance over time. But, essentially what you’ll have is a very park-like setting that when the fire hits that, the intensity drops tremendously and gives us that moment to react and pick up the fire's edge and put it out, before it gets to the home,” said Kennison.

An example of how well this system works is that the fuel reduction program was not in place on the west side of Alta Sierra, causing significant damage to the area.

On the other side of Alta Sierra and in the Pala Ranches community, the fuel reduction program was in place and, several homes were saved.

“A week ago, today the fire front made an aggressive run in this community, and we’d like to show everybody how the week over the previous 20 years essentially in fuels reduction programs helped ensure that this community is still standing along with all the hard work of the firefighters out here,” said Kennison.

Chief Kennison said while some homes were lost they are currently working on a community wildfire prevention plan that focuses their attention on specific communities that have high fire danger.

“Unfortunately, we did lose some structures in this community. But, we know for a fact that the loss would have been much greater had it not been for the work of the firefighters and the reduction and fuels from all of the project work done around this community,” Kennison.

Chief Kennison added that the department is applying for grants to create more fuel reduction programs.