- Associated Press - Wednesday, July 28, 2010

TEHACHAPI, Calif. (AP) — Two wildfires that erupted and spread quickly near the Mojave Desert have destroyed dozens of homes and forced evacuations in remote areas of California as hundreds of firefighters work to contain the flames.

The most destructive of the fires was burning about 10 miles southeast of Tehachapi, which is about 75 miles north of Los Angeles.

More than 30 homes were lost in the small hill community of Old West Ranch and another 150 structures were threatened, firefighters said Tuesday.

Kern County Fire Department Engineer Anthony Romero said the fire erupted at about 3 p.m. in the area some 70 miles north of Los Angeles. It has grown to 1,230 acres, or nearly 2 square miles, according to the fire department.

“The wind has been a big factor,” Mr. Romero said. “It’s changing on us a lot.”

Homes in the eastern foothills of the Tehachapi Mountains were smoldering early Wednesday, with one structure appearing to have collapsed in on itself. A singed, wooden banister was the only piece of the home left standing.

About 250 firefighters from several different agencies were on the scene, along with water-dropping aircraft.

Battalion Chief David Goodell said the fire was about 25 percent contained at 1 a.m. Crews were working on the southeast corner of the blaze widening bulldozer lines and setting backfires.

“We’re trying to put to bed a fire that could get a lot bigger,” he said.

Years of drought, along with tree diseases and bugs among the foothills’ pine and chaparral, have turned the area into a “tinderbox,” Mr. Goodell said.

The cause of the fire is under investigation.

Wyant Winsor, 52, a delivery driver for the local school district, was working on property he owns in Old West Ranch when he saw the first smoke at about 2:20 p.m. and watched as it grew rapidly over the next half hour.

When the fire department told him to evacuate, he parked his tractor in a clearing and made a run for it.

“Hopefully it’ll be OK. I guess I’ll know tomorrow, he said with a nervous laugh.

Mr. Winsor said he and a friend drove down the road through the fire with flames lapping at his truck on both sides, barely able to see the road in front of them through the smoke.

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