A part of Tehachapi history burned Tuesday afternoon, July 17, when a fast moving brush fire destroyed structures on what was once the Cameron Dairy Ranch.
Known to locals and many a traveler alike, a beloved landmark, an old boat — the “SS Minnow” – is visible from Highway 58 on the north side of the roadway between the Cameron Canyon Road and Sand Canyon Road exits. The aged structures nearby, including a home and large barn, went up quickly when the wind-driven fire blasted through the property.
When the smoke cleared after the blaze moved through the area, the charred remains of the 100-year-old family home could be seen behind the blackened skeleton of the boat.
Jake Popejoy, son of Dan Popejoy, said his family started dairying at the ranch in the mid-1960s.
Although the cause of the fire remains under investigation, there were reports that it was started by either a flaming tire on a motorhome or a boat trailer that lost a wheel, catching tinder-dry grass along the freeway on fire and then the fire was fanned by erratic winds in the area moving into Sand Canyon and then climbing the hills toward windmill-lined ridges to the east.
Also victim to the fire was the Cameron Creek Bridge at the east end of Tehachapi Boulevard; the asphalt pavement collapsed into the dry creekbed below after the wooden infrastructure burned.
Firefighters are continuing to work to contain the “Sand Fire” that started on the north side of Highway 58 near the Sand Canyon exit at about 1:15 p.m. Tuesday.
The fire grew quickly, and was estimated at 1750 acres in the last report from Kern County Fire Dept. at about 5:15 p.m. Containment at that point was estimated at 15 percent and Fire Capt. Derek Tisinger said the fire had jumped the ridge and was burning to the east of Sand Canyon Road with officials expecting that it may get to 6,000 to 8,000 acres.
Fixed wing planes dropping borate and water-dropping helicopters joined the attack on the fire, with chatter on emergency radio bands indicating that the windmills in the area, accompanied by gusty winds, were making that job challenging.
As darkness set in additional resources were arriving in Tehachapi and fire officials were preparing to rotate crew off the line for meals and rest with some resources being staged at Kern County’s new facilities in the old Monroe School (that served as a fire camp for nearly two weeks last September as multiple fires burned in the area).
Highway 58 was closed intermittently Tuesday afternoon including for a time while Southern California Edison crews dealt with a downed power line in the area of the burned structures.
There were no evacuations, although Sand Canyon Road was closed for a time and some residents waited nervously outside the area, worried about family members and animals. Some residents voluntarily left, fearing that they might not be able to get out later.
Additional information will be posted as it becomes available on Wednesday morning.
Nick Smirnoff, Ed Gordon and Claudia Elliott contributed to this report.