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Fire from plane crash menaces California homes

Sep 5, 2011, 8:32 p.m.

By Steve Gorman

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - A brush fire ignited by a fatal small-plane crash near the mountain town of Tehachapi, north of Los Angeles, forced hundreds of homes to be evacuated on Monday and left some 8,600 acres charred by nightfall in its second day.

Although the fire nearly doubled in size on Monday, some 600 firefighters backed by water-dropping helicopters and bulldozers managed to extend containment lines around 10 percent of its perimeter in steep, rugged terrain, up from 5 percent earlier in the day, fire officials said.

At least one large tanker plane dumping payloads of fire-retardant chemicals also joined the aerial assault on the blaze, said Captain Mark Whaling, a spokesman for the fire management team.

California Governor Jerry Brown asked for federal emergency funds to help pay for firefighting efforts, and that application was approved on Monday, his office said.

The so-called Canyon Fire was sparked late Sunday morning when a single-engine plane crashed near Tehachapi, about 150 miles north of Los Angeles, killing the pilot and a second person aboard, Whaling told Reuters.

The ensuing blaze quickly engulfed one nearby home, and by Monday was threatening about 650 dwellings and some 150 outbuildings, Whaling said.

Hundreds of those residences were placed under evacuation orders in an area of rural canyons and ranches to the south and west of Tehachapi, said Daniel Berlant, spokesman for the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.

Those homes remained off-limits by dark, and "the fire this evening made another run, so we're in the process of evacuating an additional 15 to 20 homes," Berlant said.

Only one person, a member of the firefighting team, was reported injured, Whaling said, but he had no further details.

He said the fire, fanned by erratic winds, was burning through a wide variety of vegetation in the area, ranging from grass to scrubland and old-growth timber.

The blaze was one of at least eight major wildfires burning out of control in California on Monday, according to CalFire and the National Interagency Fire Center in Boise, Idaho.

"But this is really our main concern because of the number of homes that are threatened," Berlant said.

Whaling said the Canyon Fire was also especially fierce, with firefighters observing flames leaping 200 feet to 300 feet in the air as the blaze topped some ridges Sunday.

(Editing by Peter Bohan and Bob Tourtellotte)

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