LAKE ISABELLA, Calif. — A deadly wildfire that roared through dry brush and trees in the mountains of central California gave residents little time to flee as flames burned dozens of homes to the ground, propane tanks exploded, and smoke obscured the path to safety.

An elderly couple trying to flee from the flames were overcome with smoke outside of their house and killed, Kern County Sheriff Donny Youngblood said.

Their bodies were found Friday near Lake Isabella, a popular recreation area east of Bakersfield that was ravaged by wind-whipped flames, said a county fire spokesman.

At least 80 houses were destroyed in the southern Sierra Nevada as the fire burned out of control across nearly 47 square miles, leveling neighborhoods and forcing thousands of people to flee from fast-moving flames.

The names of the two dead have not been released. The sheriff said his department hasn’t been able to search very extensively and would be looking through burned homes with cadaver dogs seeking more possible victims.

David Klippel, 78, a retired police officer, said he didn’t see much of a threat after receiving an automated call advising him to leave. That changed dramatically within an hour Thursday afternoon.

“I’ve never been so close to a fast-moving, ferocious fire. It was unbelievable,” said Klippel, who later learned his house had caught fire. “I almost didn’t have time to get out.”

Neighborhoods of mobile homes were charred to their foundations. Gusty winds pushed flames and smoke farther into drought-starved terrain.

“The forces of nature collided with a spark,” Kern County Fire Chief Brian Marshall said. “The mountainous terrain, five years of drought and wind gusts of over 20 mph all drove a fire over 11 miles in 13 hours.”

Scorching heat and tinder-dry conditions across the West have contributed to massive wildfires in the past week that have destroyed properties and sent residents to seek shelter and hope for the best.

Crews faced a “firefight of epic proportions” as they tried to protect neighborhoods. Officials said they expect to find many more homes destroyed as the smoke clears.