Colby Fire: Increase in acres burned; Red Flag warning extended

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Firefighters are extinguishing flare-ups from the Colby Fire as it burns in the foothills above Glendora Friday morning. A Red Flag warning continues in the region through Saturday evening, meaning that crews will work to contain the flames in dangerous fire conditions. Winds are forecast to be weaker Friday around the Colby Fire, but humidity levels will remain in the single digits.

5:20 p.m. Increase in acres burned 

The Colby Fire has now burned 1,863 acres and is still 30 percent contained, officials said at a televised press conference around 5 p.m. Friday. 

"This is normally a four- to five- day fire," said Marc Peebles, assistant Public Information Officer for the incident management team, when asked about full containment estimates. "It's steep, it's rugged, it's nasty out there; it's going to take some time."

Though LA County Deputy Fire Chief David Richardson said officials don't expect the weather to be like it was earlier this week, he said to keep in mind that those are projections.

"We are dealing with fuels that haven't burned since the 1960s so you can only imagine," said Richardson. "It takes a lot of staffing and man power to get out there and put those hot spots out."

Azusa's Mountain Cove community is still under mandatory evacuations. 

"Mountain Cove still has fire and rock activity off Highway 39 and we unfortunately cannot lift evacuation for those residences at this time," said an Azusa Police Department official. 

Here's the latest information on the fire as of 5:15 p.m.:

  • 1,863 acres have been burned so far.
  • Three men are in jail in lieu of $500,000 bail on suspicion of recklessly starting a fire. They are scheduled to make their first court appearance Tuesday morning.
  • 5 homes have been destroyed and 17 other structures damaged, including some at the famed Singer Mansion.
  • One civilian and two firefighters were hurt.
  • 1,176 personnel are fighting the fire and being supported by 9 helicopters.
  • Azusa residents in the Mountain Cove community remain under evacuation. 
  •  All schools in the Glendora Unified School District will be open and on their normal schedule. However, students will remain indoors if air quality is poor. Citrus College in Glendora also reopened.
  • Animals taken to the Los Angeles County Animal Care and Control’s evacuation trailers will be transported to the Baldwin Park Care Center located at 4275 N. Elton St., Baldwin Park, 91706.

2:13 p.m. Evacuations lifted north of Sierra Madre Avenue at 4 p.m.

Evacuations will be lifted at 4 p.m. for residents who live north of Sierra Madre Avenue between Yucca Ridge and Ranch Road, reports the Azusa Police Department. This includes Crystal Canyon Condo Complex and Mirador Housing Tract. 

However, police advise that residents of Mountain Cove are not allowed back into their residences. "There is still concern for the roadway and homes in that area. FireFighters are still working in the area," Azusa police wrote in a press release Friday afternoon. 

Police also released this video for folks who have been displaced due to the fire.

Watch the informative video

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

2:00 p.m.  Lots of flames, especially with flare-ups

The fire is still at thirty percent containment; a number that has not changed since Thursday night. 

US Forest Service spokesman Nathan Judy told KPCC that although the fire hasn't grown, they are still seeing lots of flames, especially with flare-ups.

"We're having rolling material roll down the hill that finds susceptible fuel down below or fuel that's been very dry," said Judy. "It smolders in there for a minute, it will catch fire, and then it will flare up and burn all that fuel off."

Judy says firefighters are allowing some vegetation to burn off slowly to decrease the risk of future fires.

The threat to the nearby communities of Duarte and Bradbury subsided Thursday night and officials closed a shelter at Memorial Park in Azusa for people who were ordered to evacuate. The American Red Cross shelter at Glendora High School remains open, according to the L.A. County Sheriff's Department. 

12:14 p.m. Suspects to face federal charges

Glendora Police Chief Tim Staab said Friday that the three suspects whose campfire started the Colby Fire will be charged in federal court, Glendora Police Lt.. Rob Lamborghini tells KPCC.

Statistics from Cal Fire say that 95 percent of wildfires in their jurdistiction in the past five years have been human-related.

In August 2007, 10 people and businesses were charged with accidentally starting wildfires, according to a December 2007 story from the Los Angeles Times. Defense attorneys also said in the story that prosecutors were being overzealous.

Both Riverside and San Bernardino counties have previously obtained death sentences against fire setters who caused deaths. An L.A. County district attorney spokeswoman says she can name only three wildfires in the past five years that resulted in prosecutions.

Sharon McNary

9:59 a.m. Red flag warning extended

A red flag fire weather warning was extended another 24 hours on Friday as firefighters battled the Colby Fire, extending to 6 p.m. Saturday evening.

Fire officials said earlier Friday morning at a press conference that mandatory evacuations remained in effect in Azusa, though others had been allowed to return home. Officials were still trying to figure out how many structures had burned.

Forest supervisor Tom Contreras from the Angeles National Forest said that conditions were still extreme due to drought and the Santa Ana winds, saying it "seems like this is July rather than January."

There was a flare-up in the San Gabriel Canyon, incident commander Mike Wakoski said at the press conference, but said it never breached fire lines. He said that things were progressing nicely and that there hadn't been a lot of issues early Friday morning, with things looking pretty good around structures, and that they were turning to the north to contain the fire.

Previously: Three men remained in jail early Friday morning – in lieu of $500,000 bail each – on suspicion of recklessly starting the Colby Fire, according to the L.A. County Sheriff's Department website. All three are scheduled to make their first court appearance on Tuesday morning.

The  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

Glendora Police Chief Tim Staab said the three set a campfire and were tossing papers into it when a breeze kicked up and ignited the larger blaze in the foothills. 

"One [suspect] had made an admission to our detectives and admitted to starting this fire," Staab said, adding that the suspect was apologetic.

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 taken into custody.

The suspects are being cooperative, the chief said. Staab added that the area isn't a camping area, but that people do camp there. The L.A. County District Attorney and the U.S. Attorney's Office are discussing whether the group will be charged with state or federal crimes, Staab said.

Staab told KPCC Thursday night that his detectives confirmed that Jarrell posted on his Facebook page earlier that he and two friends were going mountain lion hunting.

The post names two men — Cliffy Henry and Steven Winning — whose pictures on their own Facebook pages match those of suspects Clifford Eugene Henry and Steven Robert Aguirre.

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.

The first report of the flames came in about 5:50 a.m. Thursday. About one hour later, it had grown to more than 100 acres; by 9 a.m. 200 acres and it had consumed more than 1,700 acres by 11 a.m. By Thursday evening, the fire had stopped spreading.

Joe Borland, a retired U.S. Army colonel, told KPCC that he was stunned at how fast the flames spread. 

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

The Los Angeles County Fire Department initially deployed seven engines and three helicopters to the fire. By midday, there were 700 personnel on the ground, backed by 70 fire trucks and supported by eight air tankers and seven helicopters.

By Thursday afternoon, fire officials confirmed that one civilian woman had sustained minor burn injuries, as had two firefighters — one from a rolling rock, another from minor burns. All are expected to recover.

Officials also confirmed that five homes had been destroyed as of late Thursday, and 17 had sustained damage, including two buildings at the Singer Mansion.

Singer Mansion

An outbuilding of the Singer Mansion sustained burn damage, Glendora city manager Chris Jeffers told KPCC.

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

"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."

Embers from the mountain fire fanned by gusty Santa Ana winds quickly spread into neighborhoods below, where residents were awakened in the pre-dawn darkness and ordered to leave. Between 1,700 and 2,000 residents were evacuated and the order included 880 homes in Glendora and the neighboring foothill city of Azusa, the Associated Press reported.

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

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, canceled classes for the day. Glendora lifted its evacuation order at about 6 p.m. Thursday.

Several schools were closed. The Glendora Unified School District closed Goddard Middle School, which was being used as a fire department command post. District spokeswoman Michelle Hunter said 900 students attend the school, which is near the fire and within the evacuation area.

The huge smoke plume from the fire spread across greater Los Angeles County and out to sea Thursday morning. The South Coast Air Quality Management District called smoke production from the fire “high” and that communities in the path of prevailing winds could experience “unhealthy” air quality.

Richard Minnich, a fire ecologist with the University of California at Riverside, said the fire is surrounded by wilderness areas that burned in 2003.

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

Tweet of smoke from space

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