Special Sections : Canyon Fire

Tuesday, Sep 06 2011 06:58 AM

Canyon Fire continues to burn

Related Photos

On Monday, Sept. 4, the Canyon Fire was threatening wind park area to the south and east of the fire's start on the Old West Ranch. An area along Tehachapi-Willow Springs Road north of Rosamond was evacuated. Photo by Nick Smirnoff

Fire officials and news media toured the Old West Ranch on Monday, Sept. 4, viewing some of the damage. It was later reported that 12 residences in the area were lost in the firestorm of Sept. 3. Photo by Nick Smirnoff

Kern County Fire Dept. spokesman Sean Collins, in dark pants, confers with Cal Fire officials on Monday, Sept. 4. Management of the Canyon Fire transition from KCFD to a Cal Fire incident command team on Monday. Photo by Nick Smirnoff

Firefighters are set to enter Day 3 of the Canyon Fire with fire activity pushing toward the desert late Monday, causing the evacuation of homes north of Rosamond in the vicinity of Tehachapi-Willow Springs Road and continued effort to protect homes and windmills.

An update provided by fire officials around 7 p.m. Monday, Sept. 5, showed the fire 10 percent contained at 8,644 acres, with 12 residences and 18 outbuildings destroyed and 650 residences and 1500 commercial properties (mostly windmills) threatened.

A new update is expected Tuesday morning and will be posted as soon as it is available.

The fire broke out Sunday, Sept. 4, about 11:30 a.m. when a six-passenger Cessna 210 crashed on the Old West Ranch about 8 miles southeast of the City of Tehachapi. Although the Coroner’s report has not confirmed this, family and friends have told The Bakersfield Californian that the two men aboard, who died in the crash, were Walt Johnson and John Nuckolls, of Southern California, flying out of Cable Airport in Upland. Cause of the crash remains under investigation.

Residents of the Old West Ranch were evacuated soon after the fire broke out. For many it was a repeat of their experience in the devastating West Fire last summer. That fire burned 1,658 acres and destroyed 23 homes and additional outbuildings.

At least 12 homes were destroyed on Sept. 4, although fire officials reported loss of only one structure until late Sept. 5 when updated information was released. By then, some Old West Ranch property owners already knew of their loss.

“We snuck in,” one resident told the Tehachapi News. “We couldn’t get any information and we needed to know. So we went in, saw what there was to see, and came back out.”

Many watched the firestorm Sunday afternoon from the command post set up on Dennis Road and Summers Street, east of the entrance to Old West Ranch.

Jeannine Giuffre, president of the Greater Tehachapi Area Fire Safe Council and a resident of Old West Ranch, was among those watching. She said the fire roared as it whipped around, with flame lengths between 200 and 300 feet high — and entire trees ripped out of the grown and thrown into the whirling fire. A neighbor reported seeing the roof of a trailer flying through the fiery sky.

Among those losing homes Sunday was Merle Carnes, president of the Old West Ranch Property Owners Association. Property owner George Plesko was the first person on the scene of the fire and suffered burns to his feet and legs. He lost his home in the 2010 fire and was surprised Monday to learn that the mobile home he’s setting up on his property did not burn. Others were not so lucky.


Initial attack on the fire was handled by the Kern County Fire Dept. On Monday, Sept. 5, a transition was made to Cal Fire Incident Command Team #6. The management team is made up of fire officers from around the state who train to work together to manage incidents like the Canyon Fire. Kern County Fire remains involved, particularly drawing upon staff with local knowledge according to KCFD spokesman Sean Collins.

In addition to fighting the fire, much effort has been given to structure protection in threatened areas. At this time there are no confirmed reports of structures lost outside the Old West Ranch area.

Cal Fire has set up a command post at the former Monroe School near Monolith. Helicopters are using Mountain Valley Airport south of Highline. Another support unit has been set up in the parking lot of the new Monroe High School (former Jacobsen Middle School) on the corner of Snyder Avenue and Tehachapi Boulevard. And a fire crew sleeping area is set up on the Benz Visco Sports Park on Tehachapi-Willow Springs Road just south of Tehachapi Boulevard.

Area motel parking lots are filled with emergency vehicles and roadways are busy with fire trucks and equipment from all over the state. At the command post, Cal Fire’s inmate crew from Camp Prado in Southern California is managing the camp kitchen. Food and supplies are moving into and out of the command center to supply firefighters there and on the fire line.

Road closures and evacuations remain in place, as follows:

Road closures include Blackburn Canyon Rd, Water Canyon Rd and Oak Creek Rd.; BLM has closed the Pacific Crest Trail in the fire area.

Mountain Park was evacuated Sunday and an evacuation order remains in place for all residences within the boundaries south of Highline, west of Willow Springs, east of Water Canyon and north of Oak Creek, as well as along Tehachapi-Willow Springs Road north of Rosamond. In addition to using its ReadyKern system to inform residents, the Kern County Sheriff's Office reportedly made personal contact with residents in the evacuation areas.

Under California law, residents do not have to evacuate, but are advised that they should and that officials may not make further contact, a Sheriff's Office spokesman said. Some residents left the area while others have stayed on their property.

Relief efforts

The Salvation Army has been set up on Dennison at Summers and OWR resident Carnes praised their efforts there.

“They have been the best,” she said. “I can’t praise them enough.”

The Red Cross set up a relief center and other efforts were coordinated at that center located in the gym at Jacobsen Middle School at Snyder Avenue and Anita Drive. Few people have used the center, but it has served as a source of information and assistance. There was no word as of Tuesday morning as to how long the center will remain open.

Additional relief efforts have been coordinated by local churches and organizations. A follow-up story will be published as soon as further details are available.

To reach the Kern County Sheriff's office call 661-861-3110 (if an emergency, call 911).

In the Tehachapi area, the general public is advised to dial 211 for information about the fire.

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