Mother Nature helps firefighters battle Tehachapi fire

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

Calm, cool weather Thursday morning dampened a wildfire that destroyed 25 buildings north of Los Angeles, but crews were prepared for afternoon winds that could kick up the flames again, a fire spokesman said.

The blaze had burned about 2 1/4 square miles and still threatened about 150 homes, but it was 25 percent contained. If the weather cooperates, the fire should be fully surrounded by Friday, said California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection spokesman John Buchanan.

A pattern of cool, moist morning and evening air was helping as nearly 800 firefighters carved fire lines in the eastern foothills of the Tehachapi Mountains, about 70 miles north of Los Angeles.

"I don't even see smoke," Buchanan said Thursday morning. "I was out there. ... All you saw was glowing embers."

The temperature was expected to hit 92 and winds were expected to jump in the afternoon to 14 mph, Buchanan said.

The fire near Old West Ranch broke out Tuesday. On Wednesday afternoon, a few afternoon gusts pushed the blaze into action on its eastern side and swept unburned islands of brush into flame.

"It did make some pretty intense moments," but firefighters anticipated the wind change and dealt with it, Buchanan said.

The area is usually gusty and wind turbines line the ridges, but winds were light Wednesday.

About 40 miles to the north, a fire that began Monday in Sequoia National Forest grew to about 25 square miles and was 12 percent surrounded after burning eight homes and six outbuildings in the area of Kernville, a launching point for mountain adventuring.

About 30 homes and structures scattered in the fire area were considered threatened but they were several miles away, the fire was not approaching them and they were not considered in immediate danger, fire spokesman Sean Collins said.

About 2,300 firefighters aided by about two dozen helicopters and airplanes were fighting the blaze, which was only smoldering on its western side but still flared in the east.

Afternoon heat and winds could be a problem, Collins said.

"The cloud cover that was favorable for us yesterday has cleared," he said.

The firefighting command revised the number of destroyed structures down to 25, and Kern County Fire Department Battalion Chief Dean Boller said most were homes.

The causes of both fires were under investigation.

On Wednesday, Barbara Grantham was handing out doughnuts, lemonade, iced tea and cold water to anyone who passed by her driveway in Blackburn Canyon near Tehachapi.

She said her family's $25,000 solar power system survived as well as her home, but a couple storage structures and tool sheds were lost to the fire. "With our faith we understand that those are temporary things, but I did save a photo of my mom," she said.

When she and her husband bought the property in 1992 they didn't know about the fire danger, she said. The price was right but they put in thousands of dollars of improvements - a pump on the well, a couple of outbuildings and the solar power system.

"You can't get fire insurance here. It's a high fire threat area. If you can get it, it's pricey and doesn't cover the fire," she said.

At a Red Cross evacuation center in Tehachapi, Sarah DeSmet, 22, of Los Angeles, cuddled a dusty black kitten she had pulled out of the rubble at the home of her uncle, George Plesko, who looked dazed as volunteers tried to get him to eat lunch.

"My uncle called my mom to say his final goodbyes" because he didn't think he would get out alive, DeSmet said.

© 2010 The Associated Press.