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latest news Kern County Fire likely sparked by lightning reaches 2,300 acres and could threaten Interstate-5

A bushfire likely ignited by lightning in Kern County and burning near Interstate 5 grew to 2,300 acres and was 20% contained Thursday morning, officials said.

“Our concern today is whether it continues to move west toward I-5,” said Kern County Fire Captain Andrew Freeborn, public information officer for the agency. “Parts of the fire are within a few hundred yards of the highway. … We’re trying to keep it from going to the Grapevine, we don’t want travel to be impacted.

At present, he said the Thunder Fire – located southeast of Interstate 5 and Edmonton Pumping Plant Road – has cast a pall of smoke around the freeway.

The fire grew to about 500 acres overnight, but crews were able to increase containment by about 10%, according to the Kern County Fire Department.

Emergency crews responded to several fires started by lightning on Wednesday after extreme weather conditions brought on by monsoon humidity swept through the area, but the Thunder Fire appears to be the only one still burning.

On Wednesday, lightning also fatally struck a woman and her two dogs in Pico Rivera, where they were walking when severe storms hit.

Freeborn said Kern County officials hope Thursday’s weather cooperates so firefighters can further tighten containment of the blaze.

“Conditions yesterday were not at all favorable for firefighting,” Freeborn said. “Not only did we have all the lightning, … but this storm produced very high winds and we still had very high temperatures.”

He said they had recorded sustained winds of up to 30mph on Wednesday, but the forecast looks more favorable for Thursday. His team, however, is monitoring another weather system that could affect the region.

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

He said the terrain around the fire – much of it steep with thick brush – also makes it difficult for firefighters. About 250 firefighters remain on the ground.

“It’s a lot of hard work and very steep terrain,” Freeborn said. “Firefighting efforts right now are still focused on stopping the fire, getting it under control.”

The agency is unlikely to be able to determine the cause of the fire until it is fully contained, he said.

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