TEHACHAPI, Calif. Hundreds of firefighters gained ground Wednesday against the most destructive of two big wildfires that have burned homes and forced 2,300 people to evacuate mountain communities on the edge of the Mojave Desert and in the southern Sierra Nevada.
A 1,400-acre blaze that chased residents from the Old West Ranch community about 10 miles south of Tehachapi was 25 percent contained.
The firefighting command revised the number of destroyed structures down to 25, and Kern County Fire Department Battalion Chief Dean Boller said most were homes.
Fire officials initially estimated 30 to 40 homes were lost. Another 150 homes in the loosely connected community remained threatened.
The area is usually so gusty that wind farms line ridges, but Wednesday afternoon the weather was cooperating with the 800 firefighters on the lines, producing only light breezes.
Winds were expected to increase to 15 mph later in the day, but Boller said firefighters had yet to see the kind of gusts that drove the fire the previous day.
It was absolute chaos, he said. It is very, very overgrown. Theres so much dead and downed fuel out there we knew we were in trouble.
Boller, who turned over command of the incident to a state fire official on Wednesday, said the area had no reported fire history.
It probably hasnt burned in over 100 years, he said.
Overnight, the fire ran through the crowns of trees, sending flames 150 feet into the sky, said Kelly Zombro, the new incident commander.
At a Red Cross evacuation center in Tehachapi, Sarah DeSmet, 22, of Los Angeles cuddled a dusty black kitten she had pulled out of the rubble at the home of her uncle, George Plesko, who looked dazed as volunteers tried to get him to eat lunch.
My uncle called my mom to say his final goodbyes because he didnt think he would get out alive, DeSmet said.
Part of the fire in the eastern foothills of the Tehachapi Mountains, about 70 miles north of Los Angeles, was sending up a large plume of smoke, while other areas only smoldered.
About 40 miles to the north, a fire that began Monday in Sequoia National Forest grew to 15,600 acres, or about 24 square miles, and was only 5 percent surrounded after burning eight homes and six outbuildings in the area of Kernville, a launching point for mountain adventuring.
About 1,200 homes and structures scattered in the fire area were considered threatened, but Bureau of Land Management information officer Michell Puckett said that did not mean they were in immediate dangers.
Rafting companies, which normally take vacationers on trips down the Kern River, were being used to ferry firefighters to parts of the blaze that were otherwise inaccessible, Puckett said.
Officials were investigating what caused the fires.
The fire in Old West Ranch broke out Tuesday and carved a path of destruction. At one site, a house had collapsed upon itself.
At another property, only a singed wooden bannister was left standing.