Colby Fire: Containment estimate doubles from 30 to 61 percent

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A wildfire in the suburbs of Los Angeles was a smoldering shadow of its former self, but hundreds of residents of foothill neighborhood Mountain Cove remained evacuated most of the day Saturday. Full containment has been pushed back from Sunday to Wednesday, though firefighters faced lower winds Saturday.

Highlights:

The latest:

  • 1,906 acres have been burned so far.
  • Containment was estimated at 61 percent, with full containment expected Wednesday, Jan. 22.
  • 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.
  • 1,112 personnel are fighting the fire and being supported by 9 helicopters.

4:57 p.m. Containment estimate doubles Saturday from 30 to 61 percent

The fire's estimated containment jumped from 30 to 61 percent Saturday, U.S. Forest Service spokesman Nathan Judy tells KPCC.

The acreage burned also went from 1,863 acres to 1,906, Judy said, a modest increase after the fire began its first day with an out-of-control tear before firefighters got a handle on the flames.

Molly Peterson

4:09 p.m. Sheriff's Department: Evacuations to be lifted for Mountain Cove neighborhood

The evacuation order for the Mountain Cove neighborhood of Azusa is set to be lifted at 6 p.m., according to the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department. However, the Sheriff's Department says it's only being lifted for residents.

The Sheriff's Department also asked for residents to be alert for rocks falling on roads, and noted that San Gabriel Canyon Road will remain closed above the Mountain Cove neighborhood.

Mike Roe

12:20 p.m. Colby Fire containment pushed back 3 days to Wednesday

Fire officials say that containment is going to be later than earlier thought. While they'd hoped for Sunday and had optimistically speculated that Saturday containment was possible, expected containment has been pushed back to Wednesday, Jan. 22. They appeared to hope that backfires overnight would do more than they have.

The wind had shifted by midday, with less smoke than there was earlier, but you could still smell it in the air.

Mountain Cove residents stood on a triangular patch of grass near their homes, looking at them and sharing information as police kept them from going further up the road. 

Residents expressed a great sense of frustration after being away from their homes for days. One man who refused to give his name said that some had stayed behind in their homes and that now he wished that he had as well.

Police were only allowing residents back for emergency reasons like retrieving medication, and took only one person from a household with them.

Being advised to stay indoors wasn't welcome news for those who wanted to come into the Angeles National Forest over a three-day weekend, but some ignored that advice and came anyway. Some families with older people and children were wearing masks due to airborne particulate matter. It showed up on people's shoulders; everyone looked like they've got a little dandruff.

Fire officials say they're working on a number of different fronts in an area they earlier described as "billy goat territory." Shortly before noon, five Cal Fire trucks and a Riverside County fire truck sped through the area, which may have indicated a shift change.

Molly Peterson

10:50 a.m. Fire officials concerned about potential wind shift

"Nothing really changed overnight," Nathan Judy of the U.S. Forest Service told KPCC.

Judy said that the reason containment remained at 30 percent was due to firefighters setting backfires overnight, but that full containment was expected Sunday, though that could shift due to fire conditions. He said he hoped to be able to get full containment on Saturday instead.

Mountain Cove is "a stone's throw" away from the fire, Judy said, adding that there's great potential threat to the community. He said residents may be allowed in later Saturday or Sunday, but that it depends on what the fire does Saturday.

"We want to make sure that we're watching this fire, that it doesn't go anywhere," Judy said. "It's going to be warm. It's going to be dry. We're going to have wind."

Firefighters were concerned about a shift in the winds.

"We're going to be keeping an eye on the embers," Judy said, watching that the wind shift doesn't push embers outside of firefighters' containment lines. Firefighters were working to prevent any secondary fires, Judy said.

The air quality remained low Saturday, with what Judy described as a mist in the air from the fire overnight. He recommended that those with asthma or breathing problems stay inside.

Of the 17 structures damaged in the fire, one was a barn that burned to the ground, Judy said, while six were garages, five outbuildings and five homes with minor fire damage.

While two firefighters had been injured battling the fire, they were already back out fighting the fire Friday, Judy said.

The fire didn't rage Friday, but hotspots continued to flare up, Judy said.

Ashley Bailey

10:16 a.m. Mountain Cove residents retrieve supplies from their homes

At the road closed sign about half a mile from Mountain Cove, people from the neighborhood milled about Saturday morning. They were waiting for a turn to go with a police escort to get into their homes and get more supplies.

Residents said they expected to be out of their homes for another couple of days. As they talked and caught up with each other., helicopters flew overhead and backfires burned nearby.

One man told KPCC that his wife was getting medication for their children, clothes and other supplies.

The smoke could be smelled at the base of the 210 freeway and the air quality in the area was enough to make eyes water. Some residents wore masks and attempted to protect their children from the debris in the air. Officials advise that, if you don't need to be doing anything outside in that area, to stay inside.

Molly Peterson

9:58 a.m. Firefighters face lower winds Saturday

Another wave of evacuees returned Friday evening to their homes, this time in Azusa, 25 miles northeast of downtown Los Angeles, a day after their neighbors in Glendora did the same. But one Azusa neighborhood known as Mountain Cove remained too close to the remaining fire, so its residents had spend another night away.

Saturday morning, firefighters reported making "excellent progress" overnight thanks to lower temperatures and favorable wind conditions. They said they were able to successfully fight the fire and reinforce containment lines, despite working in steep, rocky terrain.

The temperature in the area Saturday was expected to hit a high of 87, according to the U.S. Forest Service, with a medium potential for fire growth. The vegetation in the area remained dry, with humidity expected to be in the single digits.

Winds were expected to be lower than Friday at around 10 to 15 miles per hour, with a possible shift in direction expected around noon. A red flag warning for the area was set to last until 6 p.m. Saturday due to Santa Ana winds.

The fire erupted early Thursday in the Angeles National Forest when Santa Ana winds hit a campfire that authorities said was recklessly set by three men. Gusts quickly spread flames from the San Gabriel Mountains into Glendora and Azusa, where some 3,700 people had to evacuate at the fire's peak.

Five homes were destroyed and 17 other houses, garages and other structures were damaged, according to early assessments.

Red-flag warnings of critical danger due to the combination of winds, extremely low humidity and extraordinarily dry vegetation were repeatedly extended during the week. The National Weather Service said some warnings would expire Friday evening but others would remain for mountain areas until 6 p.m. Saturday.

The state is in a period of extended dry weather compounded in Southern California by repeated periods of the regional Santa Anas, dry and powerful winds that blow from the interior toward the coast, pushing back the normal flow of moist ocean air and raising temperatures to summerlike levels.

The dry conditions statewide led Gov. Jerry Brown to formally declare a drought Friday in order to seek a range of federal assistance.

AP with Mike Roe

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