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Parched conditions fuel Southern Calif. wildfires

At least three wildfires burned across tinder-dry Southern California on Monday, including one that had destroyed a dozen homes, officials said.
/ Source: The Associated Press

At least three wildfires burned across tinder-dry Southern California on Monday, including one that had destroyed a dozen homes, officials said.

By far the largest of the blazes was the so-called Canyon Fire, burning near Tehachapi in Kern County. It was sparked Sunday when a single-engine Cessna plane crashed.

The blaze had chewed its way through 8,600 acres — about 13 square miles — of summer-scorched terrain and destroyed 12 residences, said Ron Oatman, a spokesman with the California Department of Fire and Forestry Protection. Additionally, the fire claimed 15 outbuildings and three recreational vehicles.

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.

At least 650 homes in three rugged communities were ordered to evacuate, Kern County fire department spokesman Cary Wright said.

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 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.

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 on 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.

A firefighter and a resident suffered minor injuries, Kunitomi 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."

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," 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.