Fire from plane crash destroys 12 California homes

LOS ANGELES Tue Sep 6, 2011 5:52pm EDT

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LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - A brush fire ignited by a fatal small-plane crash in Southern California has destroyed 12 homes and forced the evacuation of hundreds of others, leaving over 13,000 acres charred on Tuesday as it flared out of control for a third day.

The fire devoured another 5,000 acres overnight and into Tuesday morning as strong, erratic winds fanned the flames across steep, rugged terrain near the mountain town of Tehachapi, about 150 miles north of Los Angeles.

"This morning, the winds have died down somewhat, and that has allowed us to get in there and take advantage and build containment on the fire," said Daniel Berlant, spokesman for the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.

By noon Tuesday, some 1,200 firefighters backed by bulldozers and an aerial squadron of 10 water-dropping helicopters and seven fire-retardant tanker planes had carved containment lines around 20 percent of the fire's perimeter, up from 5 percent early on Monday, Berlant said.

The so-called Canyon Fire was sparked late Sunday morning when a single-engine plane crashed near Tehachapi, killing the pilot and a second person aboard.

The ensuing blaze quickly engulfed one nearby home, and 11 more dwellings plus 18 outbuildings were destroyed on Monday, fire officials said.

A total of 650 residences and 150 outbuildings remained under threat, and evacuation orders were kept in place on Tuesday for hundreds of those homes, Berlant said. Two firefighters suffered minor injuries, he said.

Power lines and other facilities owned by Southern California Edison also were at risk, CalFire reported.

The fire has scorched well over 13,000 acres of grass, brush and timber since Sunday in an area of rural canyons, mountain slopes and ranches to the south and west of Tehachapi.

Adding to the intensity of the fire was the fact it was burning through wooded areas in which many dead trees had succumbed to disease or insect infestation, providing ample amounts of dry fuel for the blaze.

It is one of several major wildfires burning out of control in California, but ranks as the one of greatest immediate concern to fire officials on Tuesday due to the number of homes in harm's way.

(Editing by Greg McCune and Jerry Norton)