New wildfire burns in scorched area near Fort Tejon

BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KBAK/KBFX) - A pair of brush fires started burning Tuesday morning near southbound Interstate 5 in the Fort Tejon area.

The Kern County Fire Department named the incident the Water Fire as the "fast running fires" merged. The Water Fire burned 550 acres and was 50 percent contained at last report.

That general area is already charred from a wildfire that sparked up Friday, burning more than 700 acres.

"The edge of this new 'Water Fire' is in line with the old 'Rancho Fire' and they've burned together," Kern County Fire spokesman Sean Collins said. The Rancho Fire had threatened residents in Digier Canyon, so on Tuesday they were dealing with a second blaze just a few days later.

And by mid-morning, residents in 45 homes were told to evacuate. By early evening, Collins told Eyewitness News homes were no longer threatened.

The Water Fire was not affecting traffic on I-5.

Fire crews battled all day against the Water Fire. At one point there were four airplanes, some of them dropping retardant on the blaze, and also four helicopters. Some 300 firefighters worked to protect homes and stop the flames.

Both fires on Tuesday apparently started near the southbound lanes of I-5, about a quarter mile apart. Collins said the Rancho Fire had also started near the freeway on Friday.

"We see many hazards along freeways," Collins said. The firefighter said that includes all the local highways. And, the dangers can be many different things.

"A lot of the time we're unsure exactly what it is attributed to, but using a little bit of common sense, we can verify that it's probably catalytic converters that break up," Collins said. He also said things like a trailer dragging a chain can create a spark -- which can then start a fire by the roadway.

Residents in the mountain communities have other theories about the recent fires.

"I think it's probably arson," Lebec resident Dave Blomgren told Eyewitness News. "There was another one that started up here," he said -- pointing up Frazier Mountain Road. Blomgren said that was a couple months ago. It turned into a big fire, and while it started near his home, Blomgren said luckily the wind blew it away from the house.

Harold Pender has other concerns. "Chances are somebody flicked a cigarette out," he said of the recent fires.

Collins said all the hazards are that much more dangerous considering the current conditions across Kern County and Southern California. "Very little precipitation over the winter, very little snow, very little moisture," he ticks off. "We're seeing excessively dry (conditions) and low humidity right now, and high temperatures."

County fire crews report they had full containment of the Rancho Fire on Monday evening. And by Tuesday night they said no damage to homes or injuries had been reported with the Water Fire.

But fire fighters urge a lot of caution, especially near highways. "Be careful of anything dragging from the car, the trailers or trucks," Collins said. "Play your part in the safety of our environment."

The cause of the fire is under investigation.