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Plane crash south of Bakersfield sparks wildfire in California

Monday, September 5, 2011 | 8:18 a.m. CDT; updated 7:54 p.m. CDT, Monday, September 5, 2011

TEHACHAPI, Calif. — Residents of at least 100 homes were forced to flee after a small plane crashed and burst into flames, killing two people on board and igniting a fast-moving brush fire that burned early Monday near a California mountain community.

One house burned to the ground after the single-engine Cessna 210 went down Sunday afternoon near Tehachapi south of Bakersfield, according to Kern County fire department spokesman Cary Wright.

Authorities did not know how many people were on the plane, but two people were confirmed dead.

No injuries from the fire were reported.

"The terrain is steep, rugged. The wind is swirling. All the dry brush is a huge fuel source," Wright said.

The blaze grew to 3,500 acres — nearly 5 1/2 square miles — amid dry, hot and windy conditions. About 600 firefighters, backed by 11 air tankers, battled the blaze.

Fire official Sean Collins said early Monday that it was at zero containment.

Crews were attacking the flames from above, running water-dropping aircraft continuously. Most of the ground crews were devoted to structure protection.

Wright said earlier in the evening that the fire in Blackburn Canyon was "growing by the minute," adding that it shifted direction three times.

Officials issued a mandatory evacuation order for 100 homes under threat in Blackburn Canyon and the Mountain Meadows area.

Collins said that the blaze was still at about 3,500 acres, and he said there could be more evacuations later in the day.

The Red Cross set up an evacuation center at Jacobsen Junior High School in Tehachapi.

To the south, a wildfire along the main interstate between Southern California and Las Vegas that grew to 1,100 acres was 80 percent contained late Sunday.

The fire erupted in the center divider of Interstate 15 on Friday at the start of the holiday weekend, forcing the closure of all lanes and snarling the getaway traffic. Nearly all lanes were reopened by Friday evening.

Fueled by steady winds and 90 degree temperatures, the blaze jumped the freeway and burned chaparral in the hills that form the nearby San Bernardino National Forest and rural areas of San Bernardino County.

About 1,500 homes were evacuated Friday, but all residents had been allowed to return home by the next day.

However, the flames destroyed two mobile homes and damaged two other structures.

Air quality officials predicted that smoke from the fire would cause problems for people with health sensitivities in the San Bernardino and San Gabriel mountain areas. The South Coast Air Quality Management District urged them to avoid unnecessary outdoor activities.


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