LEBEC — A brush fire near Fort Tejon State Historic Park on Friday spread to about 400 acres and forced evacuations.
The Rancho Fire broke out about noon on southbound Interstate 5 just north of Fort Tejon Road, sending dark brown smoke into the air.
Kern County Fire Department Engineer Anthony Romero said 182 firefighters were aggressively attacking the fire.
Evacuations were called on Oak Knolls Road and along Digier Canyon. Gorman School served as the evacuation center.
The residents of 23 homes were warned to evacuate, but the occupants of 15 of them stayed. The remaining eight families left, but chose not to take shelter at the middle school.
Romero said other authorities including Los Angeles County Fire, the U.S. Forest Service, Kern County Sheriff’s Office, California Highway Patrol and Caltrans were assisting.
The California Highway Patrol initially reported the fire might have been caused by a big-rig on the side of the highway, but a cause hasn’t officially been determined.
Romero said firefighters were working to contain the fire.
The San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District issued a health cautionary statement that is in effect until the fire is out. It said smoke may impact the communities of Lebec, Frazier Park, Lake of the Woods, Pinon Pines and Pine Mountain Club.
People with respiratory problems should stay inside their homes since smoke from fires produces fine-particulate-matter, which can cause serious health problems.
“If you can see smoke and smell smoke, you are being affected,” said Samir Sheikh, the air district’s director of air quality analysis, in the news release.