Wildfires continue to burn in Kern County

Tehachapi "West Fire" at night; view from Mojave
"Mojave Desert"/Flickr

Fire officials say they’ve partially contained one of two wildfires in Kern County.

The fire, burning 10 miles south of Tehachapi, has forced 2,300 people to evacuate the area. It’s already destroyed 30 structures.

Updated at 5:26 p.m. | Permalink

Residents of Camp Owens allowed to return

In Tehachapi (some 70 miles north of L.A.) between Bakersfield and Mojave, the West Fire has burned approximately 1,400 Acres (2 square miles) and is 25 percent contained, officials said.

Twenty-five homes have been destroyed and about 800 firefighters are on the scene.

Three roads have been closed on Tehachapi Willow Springs Road. Officials say the fire's eastern flank has seen increased activity.

In the southern portion of the Sequoia National Forest near Kernville the Bull Fire that started Monday has burned around 15,600 acres (20+ square miles) and is 15 percent contained, officials said.

Eight homes and 6 out-buildings have been destroyed, while 1,200 homes remain threatened. Residents of homes in Camp Owens have been allowed to return. Two firefighters have received minor injuries.
KPCC staff

Updated at 1:06 p.m. | Permalink

Wildfires continue to burn in Kern County
Corey Moore

Officials say they’ve contained a quarter of the fire that’s scorched about 1,400 acres. It started yesterday dozens of miles north of Los Angeles and it threatens most of the town of Old West Ranch in the eastern foothills of the Tehachapi Mountains.

Another fire in Sequoia National Forest has gutted eight homes and six structures. It has burned over 15,000 acres. Fire authorities say it’s 5 percent contained.

Updated at 9:20 a.m. | Permalink

Dry vegetation makes Tehachapi fire a challenge

Two wildfires near the Mojave Desert continue to burn today as hundreds of fire crews work to get a hold of them.

The more destructive of the two so far is the West Fire in Tehachapi, some 70 miles north of Los Angeles. It’s already burned around 1,200 acres and destroyed more than 30 homes. No containment yet.

Kern County Fire Engineer Dustin Allegranza said the dry vegetation in the area makes it a challenge for fire crews to control the flames. “There are some areals and timber, and areal fields, but mostly it's really dried brush," said Allegranza. "And mixed in when it gets windy – which the Weather Service is forecasting about 7 to 13 mph winds – it really creates the perfect environment for the fire to spread, which is what we saw yesterday and into the evening.”

The Bull Fire is the second fire burning to the north. That one has burned 15,000 acres in the southern end of the Sequoia National Forest. It’s 5 percent contained. Two people have been injured.

The cause of both fires is still under investigation.

Updated at 9:17 a.m. | Permalink

2 wildfires destroy homes, force evacuations in Kern County

Kern County is in a state of emergency today as two wildfires have destroyed several homes and forced evacuations.

The West Fire in Tehachapi, some 70 miles north of L.A., has already scorched around 1,200 acres. There are around 250 firefighters battling the fire in the dried vegetated area.

Kern County Fire Engineer Dustin Allegranza said the fire is at 0 percent containment. “We’re going to try to improve our existing line, hold and improve that line we have; try to extend that line around the fire to get a containment," said Allegranza. "And we also have a structure protection group that’s going to be doing triose on structures that are threatened that can possibly be saved. That way if we get another flare-up, we’ll be prepared to handle that."

Allegranza says about 40 homes have been destroyed; 150 homes are threatened.

And just north of that, the Bull Fire has burned 15,000 acres of the southern end of the Sequoia National Forest. That one is 5 percent contained. Two people have been injured.

Updated story, from the Associated Press:

Firefighters gained ground Wednesday against the most destructive of two big wildfires that have burned dozens of homes and forced 2,300 people to evacuate mountain communities on the edge of the Mojave Desert and in the southern Sierra Nevada.

A 1,400-acre blaze that burned 30 to 40 homes in the Old West Ranch community about 10 miles south of Tehachapi was 25 percent contained, the Kern County Fire Department said. Some 150 homes in the loosely connected community remained threatened.

Part of the fire in the eastern foothills of the Tehachapi Mountains, about 70 miles north of Los Angeles, was sending up a large plume of smoke, while other areas only smoldered.

About 40 miles to the north, a fire that began Monday in Sequoia National Forest grew to 15,600 acres, or about 24 square miles, and was only 5 percent surrounded after burning eight homes and six outbuildings in the area of Kernville, a launching point for mountain adventuring. No other homes were in immediate danger.

Officials were investigating what caused the fires.

The fire in Old West Ranch broke out Tuesday afternoon and carved a path of destruction. At one site, a house had collapsed upon itself. At another property, only a singed wooden bannister was left standing.

Lane Butchko, a retired resident without a car, recounted desperately fleeing a half-mile down a mountain road before a motorist picked him up.

"I grabbed my dog and we ran for our lives. I forgot my teeth," he said. "We were going at a full gallop and halfway down I fell, tripped on the dog's leash. When I got up, I felt the heat of the fire on my back and I saw a tree burst into flames."

The area is known for strong winds that sweep through the mountains and rake the desert floor. Electricity-producing wind farms line nearby ridges. The turbine blades stood still early Wednesday. But as the day progressed, the blades slowly began turning.

The winds rise as the sun burns off a dewy inversion layer of cooler air, and that could cause the fires to flare up, said Jeff Barlow, a senior forecaster with the National Weather Service in Hanford.

"It's like opening a flue to a fireplace and that's when you see these things really run," he said.

Years of drought in the Tehachapi area, along with tree diseases and bugs among the foothills' pine and chaparral, have turned the area into a "tinderbox," said county fire Battalion Chief David Goodell.

Wyant Winsor, 52, a delivery driver for the local school district, was working on property he owns in Old West Ranch when he saw the first smoke at about 2:20 p.m. Tuesday. He watched as it grew rapidly over the next half hour.

When the fire department told him to evacuate, he parked his tractor in a clearing and made a run for it.

"Hopefully it'll be OK," he said with a nervous laugh.

Winsor said he and a friend drove down the road through the fire with flames lapping at his truck on both sides. They were barely able to see the road in front of them through the smoke.

Trace Robie, who lives in Old West Ranch, said the fire grew very quickly and spread through the dry brush, old oaks and pines on the steep hillside.

She grabbed a handful of clothes, her dogs, her cat, a dish to give her pets water and her purse. "I always said I'd grab my photo albums but there was no time. I didn't even think about it," she said.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger declared a state of emergency for Kern County on Tuesday, freeing up state resources to battle the fires.

Meanwhile, firefighters made progress early Wednesday against the largest of more than 150 lighting-sparked fires in northeastern California. The 250-acre blaze east of Straylor Lake in the Lassen National Forest was expected to be fully contained by the end of the day, said Daniel Berlant, a spokesman with the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.

An additional 187 fires were burning in other remote parts of Lassen County and in Plumas, Siskiyou, Shasta and Modoc counties. Most were less than an acre and were contained.

© 2010 The Associated Press.