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Wildfires put Kern County, California under state of emergency

By the CNN Wire Staff
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Wildfires spread in Southern California
  • NEW: Fire officials say 30-40 homes and buildings were destroyed in the latest fire
  • The state of emergency was declared Tuesday after wildfires burned 15,000 acres
  • Authorities say 25 homes were destroyed and 2,300 people evacuated

Los Angeles, California (CNN) -- Kern County -- in southern California -- was under a state of emergency Wednesday as a result of two spreading wildfires that have destroyed more than 30 homes, caused more than 2,300 people to evacuate and burned more than 16,500 acres.

On Tuesday afternoon, firefighters were called to a wildfire southeast of Tehachapi. By Wednesday, 30-40 homes and buildings had been destroyed in the ranch community and more than 150 structures were threatened, said Dustin Allegranza, Kern County Fire Department spokesman.

The two fires are not connected and are actually 60 miles apart, Allegranza said,

with the second blaze striking California's Sequoia National Forest.

Calm winds Wednesday allowed the firefighters to keep the Tehachapi fire from spreading. But the newest fire has stretched Kern County's resources, bringing engines and patrols from across southern California to fight the fires.

An evacuation center was set up at the old junior high school in Tehachapi for evacuees and their pets. Animal control was taking large animals, authorities said.

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One Kern County evacuee told CNN affiliate KTLA, she was evacuating when the fire exploded nearby propane tanks in quick succession. "It was just terrifying," she said.

In addition, more than 1,000 firefighters continued to battle the separate but larger blaze Wednesday in the Sequoia National Forest -- north of Tehachapi. By Wednesday, that fire had spread across more than 15,000 acres, according to the U.S. Forest Service.

The Sequoia fire started about 1:30 p.m. Monday afternoon. Authorities evacuated campers as well as residents in the Riverkern community, where six homes were destroyed.

Visitors and residents are warned to keep their car and house windows closed, as there is a lot of smoke in the area, said U.S. Bureau of Land Management spokeswoman Michelle Puckett. Puckett said wildfires can be sparked by people using off-road vehicles and lawn equipment during midday. She said that using such equipment during early morning and evening hours, when temperatures are lower and humidity is higher, can help minimize the risk of starting a fire.

The national forest of 1.2 million acres is one of 19 national forests in California. It takes its name from the giant sequoia, the world's largest tree, which grows in more than 30 groves on the forest's lower slopes.

This is a prime time for tourism in the area, with no vacancies at hotels and bed-and-breakfasts, Puckett said.

Kern County is approximately 130 miles north of Los Angeles.