Almost 2,000 residents evacuated as wildfire rages outside Los Angeles
Nearly 2,000 residents were evacuated and two homes burned in a wildfire that started when three people lit a campfire in the dry foothills of Southern California's San Gabriel Mountains, authorities said.
Embers from the fire fanned by Santa Ana winds quickly spread into an area below where residents were awakened in the pre-dawn darkness and ordered to evacuate.
The three suspects, all men in their 20s, were arrested on charges of recklessly starting the fire that spread smoke across the Los Angeles basin.
One resident suffered minor burns in the area abutting Angeles National Forest, just north of the San Gabriel Valley community of Glendora, according to Los Angeles County Fire Chief Daryl L Osby.
Between 1,700 and 2,000 residents were evacuated and the order included 880 homes in Glendora and the neighbouring foothill city of Azusa. Many residents, some wearing masks, used garden hoses to wet the brush around their houses, even as firefighters ordered them to leave.
At least two and a half square miles of dry brush were charred in the wilderness area about 25 miles northeast of downtown Los Angeles.
Police said the three suspects were detained near Colby Trail, where the fire was believed to have started. At least one was homeless, Glendora Police Chief Tim Staab said.
Glendora police said officers went door to door ordering residents of the city of 50,000 to leave. Citrus College, located in the heart of Glendora, cancelled classes for the day and several schools were closed.
More than 700 firefighters were on the scene. The Los Angeles County Fire Department deployed seven engines and three helicopters to the pre-dawn fire. Officials added to the firefighting aircraft with a water-dropping Super Scooper plane.
The so-called Colby Fire broke out before dawn in the Angeles National Forest north of Glendora, about 40 miles east of downtown Los Angeles, and by mid-morning had blackened more than 1,700 acres, U.S. Forest Service spokesman Nathan Judy said.
A thick pall of orange and black smoke hung over eastern Los Angeles County and drivers were advised to keep away as residents fled the area and fire trucks sped toward the flames.
Judy said the cause of the blaze, which was burning unchecked, was under investigation, and that several people were being questioned but weren't considered suspects.
The fire had damaged at least one home, officials confirmed, as televised images showed what appeared to be several homes burned to the ground.
The flames forced the closure of Citrus College, about 2 miles (3 km) from the fire lines, Los Angeles County Fire Department spokesman Keith Mora said.
Police visited individual homes in Glendora neighborhoods near the fire to urge residents to evacuate.
Mora could not immediately provide estimates on how many residents were forced to flee.
"Early this morning, when it broke out, it burned really rapidly and it does appear like it's laying down right now," he said. "We're just trying to gain control prior to the heat-up in the afternoon."
Firefighters deployed eight helicopters and two SuperScooper airplanes to drop fire retardant on the flames.
More than 550 firefighters were involved in the effort, Mora said.
The fire was burning in steep terrain, with houses were built right up to the foot of the San Gabriel Mountains, and some isolated homes were nestled in the brush at the location of the blaze, Mora said.
"The topography is just really dangerous," he said.