Wildfire leads to evacuations in Los Padres Estates

  • Kevin McDonnell of Lebec sent this view of the fire from his home in the O'Neill Canyon area.

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    Kevin McDonnell of Lebec sent this view of the fire from his home in the O'Neill Canyon area.

  • Shelly Borgstrom of Frazier Park took this photo from the east end of the Lebec road overcrossing bridge at 4:32 p.m. Looking across the interstate, toward O'neill Canyon.

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    Shelly Borgstrom of Frazier Park took this photo from the east end of the Lebec road overcrossing bridge at 4:32 p.m. Looking across the interstate, toward O'neill Canyon.

  • A heavy cloud of smoke is seen from the Interstate 5 Lebec Road overpass in this photo by Shelly Borgstrom of Frazier Park. the photo looks across the interstate, toward O'neill Canyon, Lance Borgstrom reports.

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    A heavy cloud of smoke is seen from the Interstate 5 Lebec Road overpass in this photo by Shelly Borgstrom of Frazier Park. the photo looks across the interstate, toward O'neill Canyon, Lance Borgstrom reports.

  • Flames burning near the Exxon-Mobile tanks at Lebec Oaks Road and Lebec Road. [photo by Gary Meyer]

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    Flames burning near the Exxon-Mobile tanks at Lebec Oaks Road and Lebec Road. [photo by Gary Meyer]

  • Kern County Helicopter 407 after making a water drop. [photo by Gary Meyer]

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    Kern County Helicopter 407 after making a water drop. [photo by Gary Meyer]

  • Looking north across the Exxon-Mobile tank facility. [photo by Gary Meyer]

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    Looking north across the Exxon-Mobile tank facility. [photo by Gary Meyer]

  • The point along Lebec Oaks Road where the fire nearly jumped to the south, but stopped. [photo by Gary Meyer]

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    The point along Lebec Oaks Road where the fire nearly jumped to the south, but stopped. [photo by Gary Meyer]

  • A flare-up on the north side of the tank facility. [photo by Gary Meyer]

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    A flare-up on the north side of the tank facility. [photo by Gary Meyer]

  • Heavy equipment arrived at about 4:30 p.m. [photo by Gary Meyer]

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    Heavy equipment arrived at about 4:30 p.m. [photo by Gary Meyer]

  • Lebec Oaks Road was closed and residents were being evacuated as crews arrived to fight the Lebec fire. [photo by Gary Meyer]

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    Lebec Oaks Road was closed and residents were being evacuated as crews arrived to fight the Lebec fire. [photo by Gary Meyer]

  • The Lebec fire comes over the hill heading south toward homes in O'Neill Canyon. [photo by Robin Barrington]

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    The Lebec fire comes over the hill heading south toward homes in O'Neill Canyon. [photo by Robin Barrington]

  • An overview of the fire area by O'Neill Canyon resident Chuck Noble.

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    An overview of the fire area by O'Neill Canyon resident Chuck Noble.

  • There were several types of aircraft brought in to fight the Lebec fire. This one returned with a water load from Castac Lake at Tejon Ranch. [photo by Chuck Noble]

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    There were several types of aircraft brought in to fight the Lebec fire. This one returned with a water load from Castac Lake at Tejon Ranch. [photo by Chuck Noble]

  • Chuck Noble caught Kern County Fire Department's helicopter 407 making a water drop near his home in O'Neill Canyon.

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    Chuck Noble caught Kern County Fire Department's helicopter 407 making a water drop near his home in O'Neill Canyon.

UPDATE—LEBEC, CA (Sunday, July 7, 2013 at 8:37 p.m.)—Here is an official update and summary from Kern County Fire Department: The Kern County Fire Department received reports of two grassfires along the I-5 freeway across from Fort Tejon State Park.  Firefighters arrived and found a pair of approximately 3-acre fires burning on the southwest side of Lebec Rd.  The Kern County Fire Department began placing fire engines and patrols around the structure[s] in O’neil Canyon, while US Forest Service fire engines began attacking the active fire with hoselines.  Evacuations were put into place with assistance from the Kern County Sheriffs Department, as well as the California Highway Patrol.  Residents were told to evacuate to Frazier Mountain High School; however, the shelter at the high school was ultimately not needed when firefighters started making forward progress on containment.  All residents have since been able to retur[n] to their homes, and firefighters will be on scene throughout the night and into tomorrow to complete mop up of the fire area.
The cause of the fire was determined to be a faulty catalytic converter from a passing vehicle.

UPDATE—LEBEC, CA (Sunday, July 7, 2013 at 8:17 p.m.)—Chuck Noble of Los Padres Estates reports that the evacuation was lifted at 8 p.m. and the roadblock has been lifted, signalling that firefighters feel that the danger to their area from the Lebec fire has passed.

UPDATE—LEBEC, CA (Sunday, July 7, 2013 at 7:25 p.m.)—Kern County Fire officials will begin allowing O’Neill Canyon resident to return to their homes “in a few minutes,” based on a visual assessment of the fire burn area.

UPDATE—LEBEC, CA (Sunday, July 7, 2013 at 6:24 p.m.)—Kern County Fire has announced that they have the forward progression of the Lebec fire stopped. The  burned area is estimated now at 300 acres. Bakersfield news media has reported that the Lebec fire was causing southbound Interstate 5 traffic to slow. While this was true as I-5 traffic passed the fire location, there is also significant slowing of traffic miles to the south of the fire as holiday travelers return to the Los Angeles area from the north.

UPDATE—
LEBEC, CA (Sunday, July 7, 2013 at 5:37 p.m.)—The Lebec fire has been held to the north side of O’Neill Canyon. Crews were stationed and ready at Lebec Oaks Road near the Exxon/Mobile tanks, expecting the fire to jump the road, but said the fire laid down just before the road. The incident command on the Lebec said at 5:35 p.m. that “we’re looking pretty good.”
Kern County Sheriff’s deputies have been attempting to evacuate residents for over an hour while an evacuation center has been set up at Frazier Mountain High School. Many residents have been refusing to evacuate when deputies arrive at their homes.

Fire crews battling the blaze include Kern County, Los Padres National Forest and Bureau of Land Management, in addition to the air crews. According to Kern County Fire Department PIO Cory Wilford, the fire had burned about 200 acres by 5:30 p.m. and was about 50% contained.

Sisters Olivia and Ireland Kelly came out from their home on Morse Ct. to see where the fire was. “We couldn’t get back in,” they said. “We drove to look at the fire and went to the gas station. When we got back the road was closed.” Maxine Jarvis was shopping and returned to a closed road and a car full of groceries. Drew and Michelle Horn of Pine Mountain had come to visit parents in Los Padres Estates near Gibson and found the road closed. Jonathan Martin and his family were on their way home. “I’d rather be out here than up there,” Martin said. “It’s too smokey up there.”

Mary Miller on Lebec Road near the Lebec Post Office said she is watching these reports from The Mountain Enterprise for accurate information, “because the TV news is making it look much worse than it is.” We’ll continue with updates as the situation develops.

UPDATE—LEBEC, CA (Sunday, July 7, 2012 at 5:32 p.m.)—Chuck Noble of Los Padres Estates reports that “We got a call about evacuating but we’re staying put with most our neighbors because it looks as if the fire is moving toward Fort Tejon.”

Kevin McDonnell also replied to our inquiry about whether he planned to evacuate: “No, we look okay for now.  Bob Mills is here too. It [the fire] is halfway to his house but the brush is west, moving toward you [Frazier Park].  Firefighters are  doing a great job.”

Noble reports that “They have three big bulldozers working on fire breaks. It is amazing to watch those firefighters head up that hill as if they were walking on flat ground, with 100 pounds of gear on their backs.”

Meanwhile, Lance Borstrom sent additional photos showing the fire from the freeway, taken by Shelly Borgstrom (see above).

Noble said he talked with an official who indicated the source of the fire may be suspicious, but they are awaiting info from the investigators. He said there were three lines of fire along the frontage road.

LEBEC, CA (Sunday, July 7, 2012 at 4:10 p.m.)—A sudden wildfire in Lebec at the entrance to O’Neil Canyon has caused California Highway Patrol and Kern County Sheriffs Deputies to block off Lebec Oaks Road. KCSO deputies are asking people in Los Padres Estates to please leave the area.

Kern County Fire Department engines and U.S. Forest Service firefighters have responded. Three helicopters and an air tanker are reported to have responded as we post this report. Kern County helicopters 407 and 408, plus what appears to be a USFS Sekorski helicopter and the fixed wing aircraft are now assisting.  Firefighters say they believe the fire will be quickly contained, but that evacuations are a necessary precaution.

A reporter at the scene says the fire may have started near the Interstate 5 freeway,  A hill has burned to the north of the Exxon Mobil Tanks near the Lebec Oaks intersection. It is burning back into the canyon toward the homes, The Mountain Enterprise observer reports.

This is part of the July 5, 2013 online edition of The Mountain Enterprise.

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