Crews curb California fire sparked by plane crash

LOS ANGELES Wed Sep 7, 2011 2:27am EDT

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LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Fire crews made decisive gains on Tuesday against a fierce blaze that destroyed 12 homes after it was ignited by a small-plane crash in Southern California, and evacuation orders were lifted late in the day for hundreds of dwellings.

The fire had grown by roughly 5,000 acres between nightfall Monday and daybreak Tuesday as strong, erratic winds fanned the flames across steep, rugged terrain near the mountain town of Tehachapi, about 150 miles north of Los Angeles.

But the winds eased after dawn, allowing fire crews to go on the offensive and keep the blaze from expanding, said Daniel Berlant, spokesman for the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.

By Tuesday evening, some 2,100 firefighters backed by bulldozers and an aerial squadron of water-dropping helicopters and fire-retardant tanker planes had carved containment lines around 40 percent of the fire's perimeter, up from 5 percent early on Monday, he said.

At day's end, the footprint of the blaze in the mountain slopes, canyons and ranch lands to the south and west of Tehachapi remained where it had been in the morning -- at 13,400 acres and holding.

"We really turned that corner with this fire with favorable weather conditions," Berlant told Reuters. "We're starting to gain the upper hand."

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 were destroyed on Monday, fire officials said.

A total of 650 residences, 1,500 commercial properties and 150 outbuildings were considered at risk at the fire's peak, and hundreds of those homes were ordered evacuated on the first day of the blaze.

But with the fire threat abating on Tuesday evening, all evacuations were lifted, Berlant said. Power lines, wind farms and other facilities owned by Southern California Edison also were spared.

(Editing by Greg McCune and Jerry Norton)

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