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Firefighters brace for strong winds while battling Kern County wildfires [Updated]

July 28, 2010 | 12:43 pm

Firefighters braced Wednesday for strong afternoon winds north of Los Angeles, where two wildfires have destroyed at least 36 houses, burned 17,000 acres and forced more than 2,300 people to evacuate their homes.

In northern Kern County, a wildfire that started Monday in Sequoia National Forest had burned about 15,586 acres and was only 5% contained Wednesday morning, said Sean Collins, a spokesman for the Kern County Fire Department.

The Bull fire has destroyed six homes and injured two firefighters, officials said. One firefighter suffered an eye injury and the other moderate burns.

The other blaze, the West fire, was burning on the high desert plains of Tehachapi and was 25% contained at 11 a.m. Wednesday, said Dustin Allegranza of the Kern County Fire Department.

The West fire has consumed about 1,400 acres near Tehachapi and destroyed more than 30 homes since it started Tuesday, Allegranza said.

Some of the worst destruction occurred when fire swept over Old West Ranch, a rustic subdivision about 10 miles southeast of Tehachapi.

On Wednesday, blankets of gray smoke wafted over the twisted, still-smoldering ruins of mobile homes and vacation getaways -- and Buzz and Barbara Granthan came home.

Many of their neighbors lost everything, and several out-buildings on their property had been burned. But their house was unscathed.

The couple was jubilant.

“We put our trust in the Lord,” said Barbara, 62. “We figured he’d take what he needs to take.”

A treehouse their grown children have been building was undamaged, although flames had licked around the tree trunk.

Buzz, 63, quickly began hooking up a generator to get his well working. He said that after a fire several years ago, he had chopped down a cluster of pine trees that ringed the house, and he made a point to regularly clear the brush.

At the bottom of the Granthans’ driveway, local pastor Doug Cowan had set up a table with coffee and doughnuts for firefighters and residents.

Cowan, of Country Oaks Baptist Church in Tehachapi, said several hotels in town had offered evacuees a free place to stay Tuesday night, and restaurants stayed open late to accommodate them.

 “Just about everyone is trying to help,” he said.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger declared a state of emergency for Kern County on Tuesday, freeing up state resources to battle the fires.

[Updated 2:24 p.m.: Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger flew into Tehachapi Wednesday afternoon for a news conference at the West fire command post.

“We’ve been lucky so far this summer,” Schwarzenegger said. “But the season is here as you can see.”

He spoke about the importance of homeowners clearing a ring of vegetation-free space around their houses, and he urged people to follow police orders in the case of evacuation.]

-- Steve Chawkins in Tehachapi and Kate Linthicum in Los Angeles

Photo: Firefighters from Azusa walk up the Tehachapi Mountains while clearing a fire line around the wildfire Wednesday. Credit: Kirk McKoy / Los Angeles Times

Photos: Kern County wildfires