Kern County fires burn homes, 17,000+ acres

TEHACHAPI, Calif.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger declared a state emergecy because of the two fires on Tuesday.

The largest is the Bull Fire burning in the Sequoia National Forest. It scorched more than 15,000 acres and was 5 percent contained Tuesday afternoon. The fire destroyed eight homes and six outbuildings.

All rafting on the Kern River has been canceled to allow water-dropping helicopters into the area to fill up their baskets. Mountain Highway 99 has been closed from Headquarters Campground to Brush Creek. The West Fire in Tehachapi burned 1,400 acres and was 25 percent contained Monday afternoon. The fire was threatening more than 100 buildings.

What had been a tucked-away paradise known as Old West Ranch is now one blackened hillside after another. At least 30 homes have burned in the area, and officials say the number may grow after fire crews get a chance to go out and assess the damage.

The fire was burning in a southeasterly direction back beyond a ridge.

The blaze erupted at about 3 p.m. Tuesday, and wind-driven flames quickly raced through the community. The wind was blowing in every direction, making it difficult for firefighters to keep the flames from spreading.

Tehachapi residents were told to evacuate, and they had barely enough time to gather their pets and belongings.

Some people watched the fire ravage nearly everything they had.

"I was evacuated in a matter of an hour, they came through and evacuated us after the fire started," said Trace Robey, an evacuee. "I'm just feeling happy to know that everybody, as far as we know, all the people are OK."

Katherine Richley, an evacuee, said she had enough time to get her kids' pictures out.

"That was the main thing that I wanted to get, is my kids' pictures. Other than that, everything else can be replaced," she said.

The cause of the wildfires was under investigation.

An evacuation center was set up at Old Jacobs Junior High School in Tehachapi.

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