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Firefighters make progress on 2,500-acre Kern County fire likely sparked by lightning

Smoke rises from the burn scar of the Thunder fire in Kern County.
Smoke rises, left, from the Thunder fire in Kern County.
(ALERTwildfire.org)

Firefighters made significant progress Thursday containing a brush fire that was probably ignited by lightning in Kern County and burning close to Interstate 5, officials said.

The Thunder fire, located southeast of Interstate 5 and Edmonston Pumping Plant Road, had burned 2,466 acres and was 65% contained by Thursday evening, according to the Kern County Fire Department.

Capt. Andrew Freeborn said smoke from the blaze had shrouded the freeway Thursday as firefighters were working to keep the flames from pushing west toward it.

“Some portions of the fire are within a couple hundred feet of the freeway,” Freeborn said Thursday morning. “We’re trying to keep it from going to the Grapevine. We don’t want travel impacted.”

Emergency crews responded to multiple fires started by lightning Wednesday after extreme weather brought by monsoonal moisture swept across the region, but the Thunder fire appeared to be the only one still burning Thursday.

Lightning on Wednesday also fatally struck a woman and her two dogs in Pico Rivera, where they were out walking when severe storms hit, and injured a man in Kern County. The man was struck while walking his dog and pushing a baby in a stroller in Ridgecrest; he was knocked unconscious but survived, and the baby and the dog were unharmed, police said.

With less severe weather conditions Thursday, firefighters worked to increase containment lines around the Thunder fire, which was only 20% contained Thursday morning after growing by about 500 acres overnight.

“Yesterday’s conditions were not favorable for firefighting in the least,” Freeborn said. “Not only did we have all the lightning … but that storm produced really high winds and we still had really high temperatures.”

Thunder, lightning, rain and heavy winds hit as monsoonal moisture moves through the region.

Sustained winds of up to 30 mph were recorded Wednesday, with more favorable forecasts for Thursday, he said. His team was monitoring another weather system that could affect the area, though.

“Any time you have a weather front that moves through, you’re going to have winds that come with that, so we’re watching it very carefully,” Freeborn said.

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The terrain around the fire — much of it steep with thick brush — is also making it difficult for firefighters, he said. More than 300 firefighters were battling the blaze Thursday evening, according to the Kern County Fire Department.

“It’s a lot of hard work and really steep terrain,” Freeborn said. “Fire efforts right now are still focused on getting the fire stopped, getting it contained.”

It’s unlikely the agency will be able to determine the cause of the fire until it’s fully contained, he said.


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