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Parched conditions fuel California wildfires
Fires pop up across Southern California, firefighters keep close eye on the weather
By The Associated Press

LOS ANGELES (AP) ' Tinder-dry conditions provided ample fuel for at least three wildfires burning across Southern California on Monday as firefighters launched a massive aerial assault to try to halt the blazes' spread.

The largest fire was the so-called Canyon Fire, burning near Tehachapi in Kern County. It was sparked a day earlier when a single-engine Cessna plane crashed.

As of Monday night, the blaze had chewed its way through more than 4,700 acres of rugged brush and pine, said Tom Piranio, a California Department of Fire and Forestry Protection spokesman.

Firefighters were initially aided by calm winds, though these picked up in the afternoon, he said.

About 600 firefighters, backed by a DC-10 jumbo jet tanker and more than a dozen other aircraft, were battling the fire and about 5 percent of the blaze was contained.

Kern County fire department spokesman Cary Wright said at least 650 homes in three rugged communities were ordered to evacuate. At least one structure was destroyed, but that number was expected to go up.

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, Wright said. 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 have been confirmed dead. Their names were not immediately released.

National Transportation Safety Board investigators reached the site of the wreckage Monday to investigate the cause of the crash, Wright said.

To the south, a barn fire grew to more than 400 acres of desert brush in northern Los Angeles County Monday afternoon, county fire inspector Don Kunitomi said. The fire was burning close to several ranch homes in Agua Dulce and was about 30 percent contained.

Kunitomi said a firefighter and a resident suffered minor injuries. The fire was burning near the Vasquez Rocks county park, whose other-worldly, slanting rock monoliths have served as the backdrop for many Hollywood film and TV shows including "Star Trek."

County fire Capt. Mark Savage said the biggest unknown was the weather. 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," he told KABC. "We just don't know what could happen."

In Los Angeles, another fire broke out around 4 p.m. close to Interstate 405 at the Sepulveda Pass, causing southbound lanes to slow to a crawl. Footage from television news helicopters show flames burning up a hillside in Mandeville Canyon, which is above the freeway, and away from sprawling homes. Arnold Schwarzenegger owns a house in the area.

Gov. Jerry Brown said he had asked the Federal Emergency Management Agency for financial assistance to offset costs of fighting the Canyon Fire.

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