Crews gain slowly on central Calif. wildfires

Several hundred homes faced mandatory evacuations and at least one school district was closed Monday as a string of lightning-caused wildfires posed a stubborn challenge to firefighters in Central California.

Three groupings of fires in Kern County covered a total of 87 square miles after a weekend of severe lightning and thunderstorms.

In Kern County, two fire complexes were located southeast of Bakersfield, near Arvin and Tehachapi, and a third complex in the northern part of the county had reached Sequoia National Forest.

Humid weather presented the risk of more lightning, with the National Weather Service predicting a 20- to 30-percent chance of thunderstorms in the region.

The 24,100-acre Comanche Complex of fires was 60 percent contained, up from 30 percent contained earlier in the day.

Firefighters intend to continue fighting the fire, which encompasses some mountainous and rugged areas, overnight, said Kern County fire spokesman Eddie Marmolejo.

A mandatory evacuation notice remained in place for parts of Stallion Springs, Kern County fire Capt. Bill Brickey said.

Authorities did not know exactly how many homes were under the mandatory order but said it was a small percentage of the 2,300 homes in the affected area, which spans 37 square miles.

The Bakersfield Californian ( reported the Caliente School District was closed because of fire conditions.

Fire crews were in place to defend homes under the mandatory order, and planes dropped water and retardant to slow the fire's advance, said Kern County Fire Engineer Anthony Romero. Some firefighters were also shifted from other fires to the Comanche Complex, he said.

Slightly farther south, the 2,530-acre Keene Complex of five fires near Tehachapi was 70 percent contained, down from more than 7,500 acres earlier Monday.

Fire crews made headway there as winds eased, but scattered homes in the remote area could still be in danger, Brickey said.

In northern Kern County, the 25,000-acre Breckenridge Complex remained 30 percent contained and was burning in Sequoia National Forest and other federal land Monday night.

The huge, ancient sequoias in the forest were not threatened, said forest spokesman Cody Norris.

Elsewhere, fires in Tehama and Shasta counties in northern California were fully contained.