Hundreds of firefighters gained ground Wednesday against the most destructive of two big wildfires that have burned dozens of homes and forced 2,300 people to evacuate mountain communities on the edge of the Mojave Desert and in the southern Sierra Nevada.
A 1,400-acre blaze that burned 25 homes in the Old West Ranch community about 10 miles south of Tehachapi was 25 percent contained, according to the Kern County Fire Department. Some 150 homes in the loosely connected community remained threatened.
About 800 firefighters were attacking the blaze. Officials said Thursday the fire might be fully contained by Friday.
Lane Butchko, a retired resident without a car, ran a half-mile down a mountain road before a motorist picked him up.
"I grabbed my dog and we ran for our lives. I forgot my teeth," he said. "We were going at a full gallop and halfway down I fell, tripped on the dog's leash. When I got up, I felt the heat of the fire on my back and I saw a tree burst into flames."
At a Red Cross shelter for displaced residents set up at Jacobsen Middle School in Tehachapi, 22-year-old Sarah DeSmet, of Los Angeles, cuddled a dusty black kitten she had pulled out of the rubble, while her uncle, George Plesko, looked dazed.
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"My uncle called my mom to say his final goodbyes'' because he didn't think he would get out alive," DeSmet said.
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger declared state of emergency, freeing up state resources to battle the fires.
The cause of the fire is under investigation.
In northern Kern County, the Bull fire in Sequoia National Forest burned more than 15,000 acres. It earlier destroyed eight homes, six outbuildings and forced the evacuation of a camp for juvenile offenders near Kernville.
It was 5 percent contained.
Officials were investigating what caused the fires.