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Firefighters work to contain Calif. blazes

Associated Press / July 29, 2010

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TEHACHAPI, Calif. — Firefighters gained ground yesterday against the most destructive of two big wildfires that have burned dozens of homes and forced 2,300 people to evacuate mountain communities on the edge of the Mojave Desert and in the southern Sierra Nevada.

A 1,400-acre blaze that burned 25 homes in the Old West Ranch community about 10 miles south of Tehachapi was 25 percent contained, the Kern County Fire Department said. Some 150 homes in the loosely connected community remained threatened.

Part of the fire in the eastern foothills of the Tehachapi Mountains, about 70 miles north of Los Angeles, was sending up a large plume of smoke, while other areas only smoldered.

The area is usually so gusty that wind farms line ridges, but for few hours yesterday the weather was cooperating with the 800 firefighters on the lines, producing only light breezes.

About 40 miles to the north, a fire that began Monday in Sequoia National Forest grew to 15,600 acres, or about 24 square miles, and was only 5 percent surrounded after burning eight homes and six outbuildings in the area of Kernville, a launching point for mountain adventuring. No other homes were in immediate danger.

The fire in Old West Ranch broke out Tuesday afternoon and carved a path of destruction. At one site, a house had collapsed upon itself. At another property, only a singed wooden banister was left standing.

Years of drought in the Tehachapi area, along with tree diseases and bugs among the foothills’ pine and chaparral, have turned the area into a “tinderbox,’’ said county fire Battalion Chief David Goodell.

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