Parched Conditions Fuel Southern California Wildfires; 650 Homes Threatened

At least three wildfires burned across tinder-dry Southern California on Monday, including one that had destroyed a dozen homes, threatened hundreds more and injured two firefighters, officials said.

By far the largest of the blazes was the so-called Canyon Fire, burning near Tehachapi in Kern County. It was sparked Sunday when a single-engine Cessna plane crashed in the remote area.

The blaze had chewed its way through 8,600 acres -- about 13 square miles -- of summer-scorched terrain and destroyed 12 residences, said Ron Oatman, a spokesman with the California Department of Fire and Forestry Protection.

Additionally, the fire claimed 15 outbuildings and three recreational vehicles. Two firefighters were injured, though the extent of their injuries was not known.

About 600 firefighters, backed by a DC-10 jumbo jet tanker and more than a dozen other aircraft, were battling the fire and about 10 percent of the blaze was contained.

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Oatman said about 650 homes across several rugged communities were told to prepare to evacuate. By Monday night, residents at about 170 homes had been asked to leave.

Ground crews were focused on creating a break between the fire and the trailer, ranch and vacation homes in communities south of Tehachapi, a city of 8,000 south of Bakersfield. Firefighters were also working to protect the nearby wind farms threatened by the blaze.

Authorities didn't know how many people were on the plane that crashed, but two people have been confirmed dead. Their names weren't immediately released.

National Transportation Safety Board investigators reached the site of the wreckage Monday to investigate the cause of the crash, Kern County fire department spokesman Cary Wright said.

To the south, several trailers caught fire and flames spread across more than 500 acres of desert brush in northern Los Angeles County on Monday afternoon, county fire inspector Matt Levesque said. The fire was burning close to several ranch homes in Agua Dulce and was about 70 percent contained. Levesque said cool nighttime temperatures were helping firefighters get the upper hand on the blaze.

A firefighter and a resident suffered minor injuries, he said. The fire was burning near the Vasquez Rocks county park, whose other-worldly, slanting rock monoliths have served as the backdrop for many Hollywood films and TV shows, including "Star Trek."

Still, the biggest unknown was the weather, county fire Capt. Mark Savage said. Around this time of year, fast and hot winds can blow in from the desert and wreak havoc on any fire containment plans.

"Winds could be the X-factor," Savage told KABC-TV. "We just don't know what could happen."

In Los Angeles, a small fire broke out around 4 p.m. close to Interstate 405 at the Sepulveda Pass, causing southbound lanes to slow to a crawl. By late Monday, the 10-acre fire was 50 percent contained.

Gov. Jerry Brown said he had asked the Federal Emergency Management Agency for financial assistance to offset costs of fighting the Canyon Fire.