Third California wildfire erupts, first two now half contained

California wildfire season has brought three separate blazes this week, leading some to call for better fire codes – and common sense.

Dan Steinberg/AP
California wildfires: An unidentified woman watches as flames approach her home from a fast moving wildfire near Palmdale, Calif. on Thursday.

Two separate fires still burning near the small mountain town of Tehachapi point out the need for more education, planning, codes, and common sense from people living in California's wild lands, officials say.

The more than 3,000 firefighters battling the flames got a slight break from the hot, windy weather Friday, when officials said the blazes were nearly halfway contained. Meanwhile, a third fire erupted 60 miles away Thursday afternoon. The Palmdale, Calif., "Crown" fire has consumed 12-1/2 square miles and forced the evacuation of 2,000 homes.

The fires serve as a wake-up call for residents and officials, says former Tehachapi mayor Deborah Hand.

“Each time we have one of these fires in California, it points up the need for better planning and education about prevention,” says Ms. Hand, who has long been active in a new general plan for the city, promoting smart-growth principles. “There needs to be a giant education campaign that instructs people that if you are going to live in these areas, you have to behave responsibly and are obligated to make your house fire safe.”

She says several homes were spared from the flames because owners took the time to clear dead trees and brush from around the perimeter and were ready with fire retardant.

“When you have houses built in a fire-prone area in remote canyons with propane tanks, you are asking for trouble,” she says, adding that the area should ban above-ground propane tanks in favor of solar panels and windmills.

The "Bull" fire, about 40 miles north of town, is 55 percent contained and would be more so if it weren’t for the rocky, steep terrain, and capricious canyon winds which reverse direction, says Kern County Fire Dept. spokesman Sean Collins.

“When the fire starts doing crazy things because of the wind, we have to pull our firefighters to safety which makes it very hard to extinguish the hotspots to get 100 percent containment,” he says. So far 16,460 acres have been burned in the Bull fire, but Mr. Collins says 81 hand crews, 54 engines, five bulldozers, 16 water tenders, and nine helicopters are “doing quite well today.” He expects the containment figure to be far higher by sundown.

The crews have been “mopping up fireline” on the southern and northern perimeters, which means creating ditches and taking other measures to ensure that no hot spots remain. The Kern County website heralded, “excellent progress" for the second day in a row.

Collins gives Aug. 10 as the probable date when the Bull Fire will be 100 percent contained. "We don’t want to give out earlier dates and then have to extend them," he says. "It’s better to give a more realistic figure from the beginning.”

The “West” fire is 46 percent contained with 1,685 acres burned and 1,000 firefighters on the ground. “The progress is really good, firefighters are doing a good job, and we should be out of here in about two more days,” says Capt Mike Mohler of the California Fire Department.

Hand says people need to be educated about what starts fires in the first place. The Bakersfield Californian has said the West fire was started from sparks from men cutting metal to sell.

“When it’s 100 degrees outside and you are very near dry brush and dead trees, you should know not to be using tools that spray sparks everywhere,” Hand says.


of 5 stories this month > Get unlimited stories
You've read 5 of 5 free stories

Only $1 for your first month.

Get unlimited Monitor journalism.