BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (CN) — California’s disastrous fire season got even worse Monday, when what began as a small brush fire in Kern County mushroomed to more than 19,000 acres.
The Cedar Fire had burned fewer than 10 structures by 3:25 p.m. Monday near the borders of Kern and Tulare counties, but the fire was burning so fiercely that firefighters could not be sent in to assess damage, the Kern County Fire Department said.
U.S. Forest Service Incident Commander Mike Minton said at a community meeting Saturday that firefighters’ top priority is protecting communities from the blaze. Keeping the flames north of Highway 155 is a crucial goal in ensuring public safety, he said.
The 19,629-acre fire was less than 5 percent contained Monday morning, according to the Bakersfield Californian.
Minton said containment was difficult due to rough terrain, drought conditions, and an abundance of dead vegetation that has not burned in a long time.
Fifteen helicopters and 1,836 firefighters were fighting the fire Monday, aided by super scoopers: aircraft that scoop water from nearby lakes to dump on the fire.
The Cedar Fire ignited Tuesday north of Alta Sierra and west of Kernville in the Sequoia National Forest, near the Kern and Tulare county borders.
Fire officials said they may not have the fire fully contained until Sept. 15 — a month after ignition. It has cost more than $11 million to fight already.
Officials said at the Saturday community meeting that the fire may have been started by a person, but the cause is still under investigation.
Evacuation orders have been issued for several Kern and Tulare county communities, including Alta Sierra, several areas in Wofford Heights, and Slick Rock in Kern County, and Pine Mountain, Sugarloaf, Panorama Heights, and Poso Park in Tulare County.
The Red Cross has established full-service shelters in Lake Isabella and Porterville to help evacuees. Terry’s Ranch and Equine Rescue is helping shelter animals and livestock; Kern County Animal Services is helping shelter companion animals.
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