Evacuation ends, crews get handle on Calif. fire

AP News
Posted: Sep 07, 2011 11:47 PM
Evacuation ends, crews get handle on Calif. fire

About 200 Californians have been able to return to their homes as firefighters gained ground on a blaze that charred over 20 square-miles after a plane crashed and killed two people in a remote area of a Kern County.

The fire has burned 14,802 acres and was 83 percent contained, California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection spokesman Ray Ellickson said Wednesday.

"They're mopping up and trying to keep the line in place," said Ellickson of firefighters' efforts as the fire fight wound down Wednesday evening.

More than 2,000 firefighters were on duty, but so much progress was made overnight that some of them were being released, he said.

The fire near Tehachapi, about 90 miles north of Los Angeles, started Sunday when a single-engine Cessna crashed, killing Walter Johnson, 72, of Pomona, and John Nuckolls, 55, of Claremont.

Twelve homes and 18 outbuildings were destroyed and three firefighters sustained minor injuries in the firefight.

At its worst, 650 houses were in the fire's path and more than 200 residents from homes closest to the flames were asked to leave.

In Aqua Dulce in northern Los Angeles County, a blaze that started Monday and had burned 500 acres was 80 percent contained.

A 40-acre canyon fire near Interstate 405 at the Sepulveda Pass was also completely contained and firefighters have left the scene, Los Angeles Fire Department spokesman Eric Scott said.

No structures were damaged in that fire, though two firefighters suffered heat-related injuries.

The National Weather Service warned Santa Barbara County residents Wednesday that gusty sundowner winds will create a critical fire condition by blowing across the mountain and canyon areas Thursday evening through Friday morning.

Sundowner winds, named for sunsets when they usually begin blowing, have helped ignite fires that have devastated the region numerous times in the past.