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State of emergency declared in Kern County as fires spread [Updated]

July 28, 2010 |  7:13 am
A Tehachapi home burns to the ground five miles above Highline Road.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger declared a state of emergency in Kern County as firefighters battled two fires that had burned more than 30 homes.

La-me-kern-county-fires Driven by winds, the larger fire burned 30 homes and was threatening 150 structures about 10 miles southeast of Tehachapi. As of Wednesday morning, the fire had burned more than 1,300 acres.

[Updated at 7:36 a.m.: Officials said Wednesday morning that 250 fire personnel were on scene and were trying to get an accurate count of how many homes burned.

"Our hearts and prayers go out to all Kern County residents and their families who have suffered at the hands of these devastating wildfires," the Kern County Fire Department said in a statement.]

Firefighters were pouring in from around the state to help battle the blaze.

A second blaze has burned at least six homes in northern Kern County.

[Updated at 7:36 a.m.: The fire has burned more than 11,000 acres, and fire officials predicted another day of "very active fire behavior."]

The fire near Tehachapi, dubbed the West fire, started about 3 p.m Tuesday.

The fire is west of Blackburn Canyon, burning northwest into an area where there is heavy vegetation that could fuel the fire, authorities said.

"The wind has been the real factor out here," Kern County Fire Department spokesman Anthony Romero told the Bakersfield Californian.

Mike Niccoli, who lives in Tehachapi, told the Bakersfield paper he was concerned about people he knows who live in the area.

"I've got a lot of friends up in Old West Ranch, and we've been calling. We can't get hold of anybody," he said.

Niccoli said the fire was spewing thick black smoke and appeared to be about 1 1/2 miles wide. He said he was about 2 miles from the blaze and could see flames topping the tall pines in the area.

"We've heard a lot of propane tanks going off," he told the Californian. "I've been up here for 10 years. I've seen fires, but never as bad as this."

A shelter has been set up for evacuated residents at a former junior high school in Tehachapi.

In northern Kern County, the 8-square-mile wildfire dubbed the Bull fire in Sequoia National Forest has destroyed six homes in Riverkern and forced the evacuation of a camp for juvenile offenders near Kernville. The cause of the blaze, which began Monday, is under investigation, according to the Kern County Fire Department.

-- Dan Weikel

Photo: A house in the West fire near Tehachapi burns to the ground. Credit: Bakersfield Californian