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California firefighters scramble to beat back wildfires popping up in parched countryside
TEHACHAPI, Calif. (AP) ' Southern California firefighters were on high alert Tuesday after a brush fire sparked by a deadly plane crash spread across 13 square miles of summer-scorched terrain and destroyed a dozen homes ' one of several blazes to break out across the parched region over the weekend.
Fire crews tackled at least three blazes Monday, including the so-called Canyon Fire, south of Bakersfield, which was by far the biggest of the three. Other smaller fires sprang up around Los Angeles County as high temperatures and light wind created tinder-box conditions.
The Canyon Fire ignited Sunday near Tehachapi in Kern County when a single-engine Cessna plane crashed in the remote area. Authorities didn't know how many people were on the plane that crashed, but two people have been confirmed dead. Their names weren't immediately released.
The blaze had chewed its way through 8,600 acres, said Ron Oatman, a spokesman with the California Department of Fire and Forestry Protection. In addition to destroying 12 homes, the fire has claimed 15 outbuildings and three recreational vehicles. Two firefighters were injured, though the extent of their injuries was not known.
About 600 firefighters, backed by a DC-10 jumbo jet tanker and more than a dozen other aircraft, were battling the fire and about 10 percent of the blaze was contained.
Oatman said about 650 homes across several rugged communities were told to prepare to evacuate. By Monday night, residents at about 170 homes had been asked to leave.
Ground crews were focused on creating a break between the fire and the trailer, ranch and vacation homes in communities south of Tehachapi, a city of 8,000 south of Bakersfield. Firefighters were also working to protect the nearby wind farms threatened by the blaze.
National Transportation Safety Board investigators reached the site of the Cessna plane wreckage Monday to investigate the cause of the crash, Kern County fire department spokesman Cary Wright said.
To the south, several trailers caught fire and flames spread across more than 500 acres of desert brush in northern Los Angeles County on Monday afternoon, county fire inspector Matt Levesque said. The fire was burning close to several ranch homes in Agua Dulce and was about 70 percent contained. Levesque said cool nighttime temperatures were helping firefighters get the upper hand on the blaze.
A firefighter and a resident suffered minor injuries, he said. The fire was burning near the Vasquez Rocks county park, whose other-worldly, slanting rock monoliths have served as the backdrop for many Hollywood films and TV shows, including "Star Trek."
Still, the biggest unknown was the weather, county fire Capt. Mark Savage said. Around this time of year, fast and hot winds can blow in from the desert and wreak havoc on any fire containment plans.
"Winds could be the X-factor," Savage told KABC-TV. "We just don't know what could happen."
In Los Angeles, a small fire broke out around 4 p.m. close to Interstate 405 at the Sepulveda Pass, causing southbound lanes to slow to a crawl. By late Monday, the 10-acre fire was 50 percent contained.
Gov. Jerry Brown said he had asked the Federal Emergency Management Agency for financial assistance to offset costs of fighting the Canyon Fire.