Fierce air, ground attack help slow fire's advance

A fierce air and ground attack helped slow the advance of a California forest fire in the southern Sierra Nevada that has charred more than 6,100 acres and destroyed one home, authorities said.

Light winds aided the firefighting effort Wednesday as bulldozers carved firebreaks and crews set backfires to help stop the fire's spread.

The fire got "very active" in the afternoon, but air tankers and helicopters "hit the fire hard," and kept the flames away from homes, U.S. Forest Service spokeswoman Cindy Thill said. The blaze had burned 6,139 acres, or more than nine square miles, and was 50 percent contained Wednesday night. Full containment was expected on Sunday.

Evacuations remained in place for portions of the town of Bodfish and an area known as Myers Canyon, Thill said. Hundreds of residents were forced to evacuate Tuesday when heavy winds kicked up, pushing the flames to the southeast and closer to homes.

About 200 homes lost electricity because of burned power poles, but crews were hoping to have service restored on Thursday, Thill said.

Two shelters for displaced residents were set up and officials held a community meeting Wednesday night for about 200 residents to help. Thill said residents were told they could probably return home in a couple of days.

Neighbors David Feltner and Dennis Fluhart, who live near the mountain community of Havilah, were relieved to find their homes still standing Wednesday and four horses in a pen uninjured.

"The fire crews are doing a bang up job," Feltner told the Bakersfield Californian.

Fluhart said his dad, Jim Fluhart, who lives nearby, has an antique fire truck with a water cannon that he had ready to defend his home. "He wasn't going to give it up," Dennis Fluhart said.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger declared a state of emergency in Kern County Wednesday to free up state resources to battle the blaze. The Federal Emergency Management Agency also authorized the use of federal funds to help fight the blaze.

The fire erupted Sunday in the Lower Kern River Canyon and burned up and out of the canyon in a portion of Sequoia National Forest southwest of Lake Isabella, a popular fishing, boating and hiking area about 110 miles north of downtown Los Angeles.

Driven by wind and topography, the fire was burning in grass, brush and trees. Fire officials said areas of timber were torching in groups and there was a high rate of spread and spotting.

More than 1,000 firefighters were on the lines or in strike teams with engines poised for structure protection.

Fourteen air tankers and 13 helicopters were aiding the fight.

Authorities have said the fire was human-caused but have not determined whether it was an accident or intentional.

Thill said firefighting costs had reached $2.5 million.

It's the second major fire in the region this summer. The Bull Fire burned more than 16,000 acres north of Lake Isabella in July and August, destroying eight homes and six outbuildings.

© 2010 The Associated Press.

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