Kern County firefighters stopped a fast-moving grass fire near Lebec early Friday afternoon with an aggressive campaign that included four airplanes, one helicopter and about 50 personnel.
There were no reported injuries or structures damaged and while Digier Canyon residents were briefly under an evacuation order, that command was reduced to voluntary within an hour of the fire’s start.
The fire broke out just north of Upper Water Hole at about 11:25 a.m., according to the Kern County Fire Department. It grew to around 10 acres and threatened homes in Digier Canyon.
All lanes of Interstate 5 remained open during the incident, but KCFD Engineer Anthony Romero said area residents should remain vigilant and be ready to evacuate if the fire should pick up.
“Always be ready. You never know whether that wind is going to change or something is going to spark up because of ash. With this wind condition, with relative humidity going down into the single digits, it’s scary,” Romero said at a press conference at around 12:30 p.m. at a turn-out on southbound Interstate 5 north of the Fort Tejon exit.
Later in the afternoon, however, KCFD said crews were in the “mop-up” phase and the fire was 100 percent contained.
Winds were gusting 10 to 20 miles per hour where the fire broke out and they quickly drove it up the hill. But Brian St. Clair, a law enforcement officer with the U.S. Forest Service, said as that happened, the fire changed its course somewhat — moving north-northeast and air tankers were able to get the upper hand.
“It’s always scary to have fire up here. It’s so steep,” St. Clair said in an interview above an old, bypassed section of the Ridge Route known as “Dead Man’s Curve.”
Traffic on Interstate 5 below didn’t slow, but Fort Bragg resident Ray West, who was driving north back home, pulled off near Lebec to take some photos of the air drops for his son Wiley, 19.
“My kid’s obsessed with firefighters and particularly air attacks and so I know more than a normal adult should,” West said. “I got their tail number. My kid’ll be stoked. He’s probably looking at it online right now.”
The fire’s cause remains under investigation.