The so-called Erskine Fire, which broke out on Thursday afternoon in the foothills of Kern County about 42 miles (68 km) northeast of Bakersfield, had mushroomed on Friday to char more than 30,000 acres (12,140 hectares), making it one of the worst in an already intense California fire season.
The blaze has also sent three firefighters to the hospital for smoke inhalation and forced hundreds of residents to flee their homes ahead of the flames. California Governor Jerry Brown declared a state of emergency for Kern County.
"This has been a massive amount of evacuations, people going door to door asking people to leave their homes because it's very dangerous out there," Kern County Sheriff Donny Youngblood told reporters at a Friday evening press conference.
Youngblood said two people had been confirmed killed in the inferno and that more fatalities could be discovered once authorities were able to search burned out neighborhoods.
"We're gonna go back over the rubble with cadaver dogs," he said. "We don't know if there are other victims who were unable to escape this fire."
Fire officials said they had five percent containment of the Erskine Fire as of Friday night, which was being driven by high temperatures and bone-dry vegetation from a five-year California drought.
"Everything is just working into a perfect storm," Kern County fire Captain Mike Nicholas said in a phone interview.
Some 800 firefighters struggled against the fast-moving flames in steep terrain and hundreds more were headed in to reinforce.
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.
Southeast of Lake Isabella, dozens of burned-out homes and car frames could be seen in a neighborhood reduced to a field of mangled metal and collapsed roofs. Two groups of residents picked through the rubble while firefighters worked in the area.
Alex Thompson, 20, was standing on a street in the community of Weldon, where houses were burning, and said he believed his home was lost as well, though he could not be sure.
"It makes me sad because I know I can't get that stuff back," Thompson said. "Basically, we're homeless right now."
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 were threatened.
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 5,300 acres (2,144 hectares) of chaparral and short grass, and containment lines were drawn around 30 percent of its perimeter. All evacuation orders have been lifted.