California Fire Sparked by Plane Crash Threatens 650 Homes

September 7, 2011

Strong winds on Monday fanned a fast-moving wildfire that was ignited by a deadly plane crash, forcing residents to flee and threatening 650 homes in this mountain community.

The fire, which destroyed at least one house after the single-engine Cessna 210 went down Sunday near Tehachapi, was burning in a region known for its wind farms. People in the rugged communities of Old West Ranch and Owens Ranch were ordered to evacuate.

It quickly spread to 4,700 acres – more than 7 square miles – as it chewed through thick brush over steep, rugged terrain amid dry, hot windy conditions, Kern County fire department spokesman Cary Wright said.

“It’s been a very aggressive, very angry fire,” Wright said. Crews made only scant progress toward its containment.

About 600 firefighters, backed by a DC-10 jumbo jet tanker and more than a dozen other aircraft, were battling the fire in nearly 90-degree heat. Winds were moving at 10- to 15 mph, said Nick Schuler, a California Department of Fire and Forestry Protection spokesman.

Wright said ground crews were focused on creating a break between the fire and the trailer, ranch and vacation homes in those communities south of Tehachapi, a city of 8,000. Firefighters were also working to protect the nearby wind farms threatened by the blaze.

Authorities did not know how many people were on the plane that crashed but two people were confirmed dead. Their names were not immediately released.

To the south, a wildfire along the main interstate between Southern California and Las Vegas that grew to 1,100 acres was 95 percent contained Monday morning. Fire officials expect to fully contain it by the end of the day with the aid of scattered rainfall and thunderstorms across the region.

The fire broke out in the center divider of Interstate 15 on Friday at the start of the holiday weekend, forcing the temporary closure of all lanes and snarling the getaway traffic.

Fueled by steady winds and 90 degree temperatures, the blaze jumped the freeway and burned chaparral in the hills that form the nearby San Bernardino National Forest and rural areas of San Bernardino County.

About 1,500 homes were evacuated but all residents had been allowed to return home by Saturday. The flames destroyed two mobile homes and damaged two other structures.

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