Colby Fire: Suspect posted on Facebook; blaze slowing; 3 injured; 5 homes destroyed

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A wildfire in the foothills above Glendora Thursday morning was slowing its advance in the Angeles National Forest Thursday evening after burning 1,700 acres. Three persons are injured and at least five homes have been destroyed so far. Evacuations are in effect. Officially called the Colby Fire, the blaze was centered in the San Gabriel Mountains just north of Glendora, about 25 miles northeast of downtown Los Angeles.

RELATED: More evacuations lifted; Red Flag warning extended

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7:07 p.m. New details emerge about suspects; bail raised to $500,000

Glendora Police Chief Staab told KPCC that his detectives confirmed that Jonathan Jarrell —one of three men being held on suspicion of starting the Colby Fire Thursday morning — posted on his Facebook page earlier that he and two friends were going mountain lion hunting.

Staab said the post appeared to be a joke, but he added that he appreciated that the three suspects were "placing themselves at the scene" of the fire's origin via Facebook.

Jarrell's post names two men — Cliffy Henry and Steven Winning — whose pictures on their own Facebook pages match those of the two other suspects, Clifford Eugene Henry and Steven Robert Aguirre.

The Facebook page of Jonathan Jarrell says he is affiliated with Le Cordon Bleu cooking school, although staff there declined to confirm that. Henry and Aguirre's Facebook pages said they were part of the L.A. Job Corps program. A records administrator confirmed that Henry had been part of the program and left last August, but could not find a record for Aguirre.

Bail is now set at $500,000 for the three men suspected of starting the Colby Fire, the Glendora Police Department confirmed. 

—Sharon McNary

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6:10 p.m. Evacuations still in effect for Azusa, evacuation center moved

Though Glendora evacuations were lifted at 6 p.m., Azusa evacuations are still in effect, according to Azusa Police Department.

The evacuation center at Memorial Park is relocating to Glendora High School at 9 p.m. If you need shelter and food, go to 1600 E. Foothill Blvd., Azusa PD advised. 

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4:48 p.m. Fire threat subsiding, casualty figure revised, evacuation lifting

The Los Angeles County Fire Department at a Thursday evening news conference said that the Colby Fire remained at 1,700 acres and was not advancing after several hours, with 30 percent containment.

The department also revised its estimate of injuries downward: Two firefighters, including one hit by a rolling rock and one with minor burns who was transported to a hospital, and a civilian woman who suffered minor burns fighting a fire, who was not hospitalized.

The department also reported that five single-family dwellings were destroyed, and another 17 other buildings — barns, outbuildings, homes — were damaged. 

Evacuees between Glendora Mountain Road and Yucca Ridge can return to homes at 6 p.m. Thursday. 

Firefighters have "good solid containment around most of the neighborhoods" and fire engines will be watching all night, L.A. County Fire Incident Commander John Tripp said. 

A landslide occurred on Highway 39 north of the US Forest Service information booth without  injuries or damage to homes, according to the Azusa Police Department. 

Azusa PD Tweet

About 750 personnel continued to battle the blaze above Glendora and Azusa, fire officials said. Water tankers would stop their drops as the sun went down, but water-dropping helicopters with night vision goggles would be available to make runs.

Glendora Police Chief Tim Staab, meanwhile, said that three suspects remained in custody and added that a deputy district attorney was at the Glendora police department and was speaking on the phone with the U.S Attorney's office to determine whether to file state or federal charges against the suspects. 

Staab added that the suspects would make their first appearance in court either Friday or Monday.

"One was very remorseful for starting this fire," he said.

The latest:

  • 1,709 acres have been burned so far.
  • Three men are in jail for allegedly recklessly starting a fire. Steven Aguirre, 21, a transient; Jonathan Jarrell, 23, of Irwindale; and Clifford Henry Jr, 22, of Glendora.
  • At least five homes have been destroyed.
  • One civilian and two firefighters have been injured. 
  • 750 personnel are fighting the fire, with 100 trucks, two air tankers and eight helicopters
  • Azusa Police have ordered mandatory evacuations of a couple hundred homes, including everything north of Sierra Madre and east of Highway 39 and Azusa Avenue. The community of Mountain Cove, up in foothills at the top of Azusa Avenue, is also evacuated.
  • Hard road closures (first responder vehicles only) north of Sierra Madre Ave. between Lorraine and Highway 39.
  • Citrus College canceled classes for the day.
  • Parents were asked to pick up students from Glendora Unified schools, which were shut down.
  • Shelters are available for evacuees at American Legion in Glendora, Glendora High School 
  • and Duarte Community Center. The evacuation center at Memorial Park is relocating to Glendora High School at 9 p.m.
  • Evacuated pets can be taken to the Inland Valley Humane Society, Pasadena Humane Society and Memorial Park shelter in Azusa. Horses may be taken to the Fairplex in Pomona. 
  • Chantry Flat camping and recreation area is closed due to the fire.

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3:41 p.m. FEMA authorizes funds to fight fire, Red Flag Warning extended

The Red Flag Warning for the area has been extended again until 6 p.m. Friday night  
for strong gusty winds and low humidity.

The Glendora Police Department said they will not be enforcing overnight parking Thursday night.

“The U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has authorized the use of federal funds to assist the state of California combat the Colby Fire currently burning in Los Angeles County,” FEMA said in a statement.

The authorization makes FEMA funding available to reimburse up to 75 percent of the eligible firefighting costs under an approved grant for managing, mitigating and controlling the fire.

The State of California submitted a request for a fire management assistance declaration for the Colby Fire, which was threatening 500 homes in the areas of Glendora and San Dimas with a combined population of 100,000 at the time of request, according to FEMA. Also at risk is the Little Canyon Reservoir, potable water supplies, secondary power lines, and wilderness preserves.  

FEMA shared more on the funds and their purpose in the release:

The President’s Disaster Relief Fund provides funding for federal fire management grants made available by FEMA to assist in fighting fires that threaten to cause a major disaster.

Eligible costs covered by the grant can include expenses for field camps; equipment use, repair and replacement; tools, materials and supplies; and mobilization and demobilization activities.

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3:36 p.m. Historic Singer home owner evacuates due to fire 

Jeania Parayno, who has lived since 2006 with her husband in one of Glendora’s Singer houses (pictured in attached KPCC slideshow) built in the early 20th century, evacuated her home after firefighters knocked on her door at 6 a.m.

"We got whatever we can and put it the car and then we went down street,” Parayno told KPCC. “The fire got so big."

Ten tenants live in adjacent guest houses that were damaged, as well as a tenant’s car and Parayno’s main kitchen but her house was untouched.

Parayno said she didn’t notice anything suspicious going on the night before.

The Paraynos plan to stay in Glendora Thursday night.

"Hopefully nothing happens with the wind,” said Parayno. “There’s a lot of embers.”

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2:45 p.m. Two civilians, two firefighters injured

Two civilians and two firefighters have been injured, an increase from previous reports, L.A. County Fire Department Fire Inspector Scott Miller told KPCC. 

All were transported to local hospitals and "are expected to make a full recovery," Miller said.

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1:36 p.m. Duarte and Bradbury are big concerns 

Thursday afternoon winds could affect firefighters battling the Glendora blaze, and the Los Angeles County Emergency Operations Center (CEOC) is now activated to Level 3, elevated from a previous Level 1.

The South Coast Air Quality Management District, meanwhile, has put out an unhealthful air quality forecast for L.A. County.

RELATED: Colby Fire: How to keep yourself safe from wildfire smoke, an air quality FAQ

"Our weather projections are that at about 3 o’clock this afternoon, we are going to get more winds,” L.A. County Fire Chief Osby told KPCC.

"Right now our concern is that — even though the fire is laying down — we have embers out there and any ember can make a spark and make the fire continue.”

Osby said that fire containment is an issue especially for Duarte and Bradbury, parts of which have not had a fire since the 1970s.

"That’s why we have personnel at the top of the ridge now with six bulldozers and most of the aircraft trying to put a containment line in to keep the fire from going in the backside when the winds come up this afternoon."

L.A. County Fire Incident Commander John Tripp echoed Osby’s concerns about the fire jumping Highway 39 and recalled the 1980 Stables fire that burned 70 to 80 homes in the Duarte and Bradbury area.

“If it gets over there on that side and gets in alignment with the topography and the wind, then the fire could spread readily into Bradbury and Duarte,” Tripp told KPCC.

Bradbury and Duarte currently have voluntary evacuations.

“We've told people: take advantage of this time to get horses out of there,” said Tripp. “We’ve told people they are not under threat."

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11:21 a.m. 3 booked, bail set at $20,000, on charges of recklessly starting fire

Three men were being held in jail on suspicion of recklessly starting the Colby Fire in lieu of $20,000 bail each by the Glendora Police Department, Chief Tim Staab said at a Thursday morning news conference.

The three suspects were identified as Clifford Henry, Jr, 22, of Glendora; Jonathan Jarrell, 23, of Irwindale; and Steven Aguirre, 21, a transient. 

Glendora PD info on suspects

Staab said police believe the three set a campfire and were tossing papers into the fire when a breeze kicked up and ignited the larger blaze in the foothills. Staab said he was told by detectives that "One [suspect] had made an admission to our detectives and admitted to starting this fire." That suspect was apologetic, Staab said.

The men came to police attention after a resident reported two people walking suspiciously away from the fire Thursday morning, Staab said. The two were detained. A third person was given a ride down by the U.S. Forest Service and was later detained.

The suspects are being cooperative, Staab said. Staab added that the area isn't a camping area, but that people do camp in the area.

 

 

In other developments:

An outbuilding of the Singer Mansion sustained burn damage, Glendora city manager Chris Jeffers told KPCC, but city officials are still evaluating the total extent of the damage. At least five other homes in the city have sustained damage, but the extent is still unknown, Jeffers said.

Another man whose home was in the danger area told KPCC that he had anticipated a wildfire and made some unusual modifications to his home.

"I built this home, and when I put this home together I had the fear of fire," Phil Currie said. "The fear of fire started from my fraternity house burning down while I was living in it, and in 2003, my parents' house burned down in the Cedar Fire."

RELATEDColby Fire: How to keep yourself safe from wildfire smoke, an air quality FAQ

Along with the design, Currie added, "I put in a fire defense system and I have two fire hoses that are attached to the corners of my house, and they are the corners that would take the hit from the wilderness. And I have 170 pounds of water pressure that go to these lines that are as effective or maybe even more effective than a fire truck would be able to produce parked in the front of my house."

Currie said he'd already been using the hoses to water the perimeter of his home to help create a shield against the fire for when the wind starts blowing and picking up embers.

"My fire hose will probably shoot a good 150 feet. You know as soon as it penetrates, the fire would penetrate that line or get within 150 feet, then I¹ll be thinking about getting the heck out of here," Currie said.

One civilian suffered minor burns in the fire Thursday, according to L.A. County Fire, but no firefighters were injured.

The huge smoke plume from the fire spread across greater L.A. and out to sea Thursday morning, but the Federal Aviation Administration says it is not affecting air traffic, the Associated Press reports. Spokesman Ian Gregor told the AP, however, that temporary flight restrictions have been imposed in the area where the fire broke out. The restriction is intended to protect firefighting aircraft and covers a five-mile radius around the fire from the ground up to 6,000 feet above sea level, the AP reports.

While the area near the fire isn't an authorized camping area, people do camp there, Glendora City Manager Chris Jeffers tells KPCC.

"We border the national forest so people are camping up there. Whether they're in designated campgrounds or not, all year round there's... it's just impossible to police, because there is nearly hundreds of trails off roads that people can walk on," Jeffers said.

Mike Roe, Sharon McNary, Maya Sugarman & AP

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11:14 a.m. 2 structures destroyed; air quality may be 'unhealthy'

At least two structures have been destroyed, fire officials said at an 11 a.m. press conference. Officials said during the conference that the area was going to remain unsafe at least for the rest of the day, so residents would not be allowed back to their homes.

Richard Minnich, a fire ecologist with the University of California at Riverside, says the fire is surrounded by wilderness areas that burned in 2003.
 
If the blaze reaches these spots north and east of it, it may die down since the brush there is relatively young and won't provide much fuel, Minnich said. To the west, the fire will run into the San Gabriel River.
 
"Basically, this fire is boxed in," Minnich said.
 
He said the main concern now is that Santa Ana winds could blow the fire south towards the town of Glendora.
 
Air quality may be 'unhealthy' near fire

Air quality officials are warning residents downwind of the fire to take precautions.
 
The South Coast Air Quality Management District  called smoke production from the fire “high” and said the areas scorched by the fire and communities in the path of prevailing winds could experience “unhealthy” air quality.
 
AQMD says communities particularly affected are the eastern and southern portions of the San Gabriel Valley, Pomona and Walnut Valley.
 
Smoke may also be experienced in southwest, south central, and southeast Los Angeles County and southern coastal areas.
 
AQMD warns people in areas impacted by smoke to keep doors and windows closed and run air conditioners if available. The agency also advises people to avoid vigorous outdoor exertion.

The popular Chantry Flat camping and recreation area is closed due to the fire, according to U.S. Forest Service public information officer L'Tanga Watson. It's at the top of Santa Anita Boulevard.

Watson also asked the public to stay off of Highway 39, above Duarte and Azusa. It's not closed, but she says common sense would dictate staying away and letting the Forest Service and other fire workers do their jobs.

Azusa Police have ordered mandatory evacuations of a couple hundred homes including everything north  of Sierra Madre Boulevard and east of Highway 39 and Azusa Avenue. The community of Mountain Cove, up in the foothills at the top of Azusa Avenue, were also evacuated.

No firefighters were injured as of 11 a.m., officials said at a press conference.

According to fire officials, unified command was established Thursday morning between the U.S. Forest Service, L.A. County Fire, the L.A. County Sheriff's Department, the Glendora Police Department and the Azusa Police Department. Other agencies assisting with resources include Cal Fire, Southern California Edison, and the California Highway Patrol, according to fire officials.

Sanden Totten, Mike Roe

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10:55 a.m. Singer Mansion damaged by fire

The Singer Mansion, an early 20th century home, was damaged by the Colby Fire Thursday morning, the Los Angeles Times' Ruben Vives reports.

Vine of Singer Mansion damage

NOAA tweeted a photo showing smoke from the Colby Fire as seen from space:

Tweet of smoke from space

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10:43 a.m. Detention of 3 by authorities to be addressed at press conference

Glendora City Manager Chris Jeffers said that the detention of "people of interest" in connection with the Colby Fire will be addressed at a morning news conference by fire and city officials at Goddard Middle School.

Joe Borland, a retired U.S. Army colonel, told KPCC that police escorted him out at 8 a.m. He said he helped a friend get pictures out of the home.

"I saw it at 7 o'clock and it went right across the ridge in less than 15 minutes. I couldn't run that fast," Borland said.

There were 500 personnel on the scene of the fire, according to the U.S. Forest Service, which had reportedly burned 1,709 acres so far. The cause of the fire remains under investigation, though three persons of interest were detained.

Sharon McNary and Maya Sugarman

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10:05 a.m. Fire grows to 1,700 acres

The Colby Fire has grown to 1,700 acres. The fire started shortly before 6 a.m.

LA County Fire tweet

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10:01 a.m. 3 in custody in connection with fire

The Glendora Police Department has three people in custody in connection with the Colby Fire, the department tweeted Thursday morning.

Glendora PD tweet

Fire officials have a press conference scheduled for 11 a.m. We'll be covering it live online and on air at 89.3 FM.

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9:31 a.m. Fire expands to 200 acres; Glendora Emergency Operations Center evacuated

The Colby Fire has expanded to 200 acres, KPCC media partner NBC L.A. reports, citing the L.A. County Fire Department.

The Glendora Emergency Operations Center was evacuated Thursday morning due to the fire, according to the Los Angeles County CEO's office. The L.A. County Emergency Operations Center activated to Level 1 in support, according to the CEO's office, and the L.A. County Sheriff's Department also activated its Department Operations Center.

The L.A. County Fire Department has five Firehawk helicopters battling the Colby Fire, according to the CEO's office.

Mike Roe

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8:51 a.m.: Evacuations ordered, schools closed

A wildfire burned out of control near homes in the dangerously dry foothills of the San Gabriel Mountains early Thursday, fanned by gusty Santa Ana winds that spit embers into neighborhoods in the city below, igniting trees. Evacuations were ordered for houses at the edge of the fire.

The blaze erupted above a neighborhood abutting a canyon of Angeles National Forest, just north of the San Gabriel Valley community of Glendora. The wilderness area is about 25 miles northeast of downtown Los Angeles.

The notorious Santa Anas, linked to the spread of Southern Californians worst wildfires, picked up at daybreak. The extremely dry Santa Anas blow downslope and can push fires out of the mountains and into communities below.

TV news helicopters spotted embers igniting palm trees in residential yards as firefighters with hoses beat back flames lapping at the edges of homes.

Glendora police said officers were going door to door ordering residents to leave.

The fire erupted abruptly, Jonathan Lambert, general manager of Classic Coffee in Glendora, said.

"All of a sudden a customer came in, 'Have you seen the fire?' 'No, we haven't.' We went outside and it's been moving incredibly quickly down that hill," Lambert told KNBC-TV.

The last catastrophic fire in the San Gabriel Mountains broke out in 2009 and burned for months. The flames blackened 250 square miles, killed two firefighters and destroyed 209 structures, including 89 homes.

California is in a historically dry era and winter has brought no relief.

Red flag warnings for critical fire weather conditions were posted from Santa Barbara County south through Los Angeles to the U.S.-Mexico border, along the spine of the Sierra Nevada, and in areas east and north of San Francisco Bay.

Fires that struck windy areas of the state earlier in the week were quickly quashed by large deployments of firefighters, aircraft and other equipment before the flames could be stoked by gusts into major conflagrations.

Large parts of Southern California below mountain passes, canyons and foothills have been buffeted all week by the region's notorious Santa Ana winds.

Spawned by surface high pressure over the interior of the West, the Santa Anas form as the cold air flows toward Southern California, then speeds up and warms as it descends in a rush toward the coast. Some of the most extreme gusts reported by the National Weather Service topped 70 mph.

These offshore winds also raise temperatures to summerlike levels. Many areas have enjoyed temperatures well into the 80s.

California is also under the influence of a persistent upper-level ridge of high pressure anchored off its north coast that has also kept the region generally warm, dry and clear.

AP with KPCC staff

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8:30 a.m.: One home has burned as Colby Fire rages out of control

Firefighters are battling a wildfire that started Thursday morning in the Angeles National Forest near Glendora, fire officials said. It's officially being called the Colby Fire, burning in the dry foothills of the San Gabriel Mountains just north of Glendora, about 25 miles northeast of downtown Los Angeles.

A home has burned, media outlets including KNX and KTLA report. More homes remain in danger.

Southern California authorities have ordered the evacuation of homes at the edge of the fast-moving wildfire.

Glendora police say officers are going door to door ordering residents to leave Thursday morning, the Associated Press reports, as flames fanned by gusty Santa Ana winds spit embers into smoke-choked neighborhoods.

The L.A. County Fire Department tweeted that 125 acres have been burned. Video from television helicopters show flames burning on a ridge.

The forecast for Glendora includes a high of 83 degrees, according to Weather Underground, with winds between 10 and 15 miles per hour and gusts up to 50 miles per hour.

The fire started about 5:50 a.m. near Highway 39/San Gabriel Canyon Road, says L.A. County Fire Department Supervisor Kyle Sandford. Seven fire engines, three helicopters and four camp crews have been sent to the  scene. Other fire departments report on social media that they are sending personnel and equipment to assist L.A. County firefighters.

Red flag warnings for critical fire weather conditions are in effect Santa Barbara County to the north, through Los Angeles County and south to the U.S.-Mexico border.

LA Sheriff's Department Sgt. Raymond Roth told KPCC media partners NBC L.A. that there are no reports of injuries at this time.

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Social media video and photos

Super scooper flies over

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School closures

Glendora Unified schools:

Closures also include:

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Correction: An earlier version of this story misstated which schools were closed.

This story will be updated.

  • 1,709 acres have been burned so far.
  • 3 in jail for allegedly recklessly starting a fire. Steven Aguirre, 21, a transient; Jonathan Jarrell, 23, of Irwindale; and Clifford Henry Jr, 22, of Glendora.
  • At least two homes have been destroyed.
  • Two civilians and two firefighters have been injured. 
  • 700 personnel are fighting the fire, with 100 trucks, two air tankers and eight helicopters
  • Azusa Police have ordered mandatory evacuations of a couple hundred homes, including everything north of Sierra Madre and east of Highway 39 and Azusa Avenue. The community of Mountain Cove, up in foothills at the top of Azusa Avenue, is also evacuated.
  • Hard road closures (first responder vehicles only) north of Sierra Madre Blvd. between Lorraine and Highway 39.
  • Citrus College canceled classes for the day.
  • Parents were asked to pick up students from Glendora Unified schools, which were shut down.
  • Shelters are available for evacuees at American Legion in Glendora, Glendora High School 
  • and Duarte Community Center.
  • Evacuated pets can be taken to the Inland Valley Humane Society, Pasadena Humane Society and Memorial Park shelter in Azusa. Horses may be taken to the Fairplex in Pomona. 
  • Chantry Flat camping and recreation area is closed due to the fire.
    • 1,709 acres have been burned so far.
    • 3 in jail for allegedly recklessly starting a fire. Steven Aguirre, 21, a transient; Jonathan Jarrell, 23, of Irwindale; and Clifford Henry Jr, 22, of Glendora.
    • At least two homes have been destroyed.
    • Two civilians and two firefighters have been injured. 
    • 700 personnel are fighting the fire, with 100 trucks, two air tankers and eight helicopters
    • Azusa Police have ordered mandatory evacuations of a couple hundred homes, including everything north of Sierra Madre and east of Highway 39 and Azusa Avenue. The community of Mountain Cove, up in foothills at the top of Azusa Avenue, is also evacuated.
    • Hard road closures (first responder vehicles only) north of Sierra Madre Blvd. between Lorraine and Highway 39.
    • Citrus College canceled classes for the day.
    • Parents were asked to pick up students from Glendora Unified schools, which were shut down.
    • Shelters are available for evacuees at American Legion in Glendora, Glendora High School 
    • and Duarte Community Center.
    • Evacuated pets can be taken to the Inland Valley Humane Society, Pasadena Humane Society and Memorial Park shelter in Azusa. Horses may be taken to the Fairplex in Pomona. 
    • Chantry Flat camping and recreation area is closed due to the fire.
    • Cullen Elementary School
    • Goddard Middle School
    • La Fetra Elementary School
    • Sandburg Middle School
    • Sellers Elementary School
    • Citrus College
    • St. Lucy’s Priory High School

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