Wildfire burning in hills northeast of Los Angeles: 3 linked to Colby Fire detained

Nearly 2,000 evacuated; At least 5 homes burned

GLENDORA, Calif. - A blaze that was allegedly set by a trio of young men tossing papers into a campfire was 30 percent contained Thursday night after scorching about 1,700 acres in the Angeles National Forest north of Glendora, destroying five homes, damaging 17 other structures and causing minor injuries to three people, two of them firefighters.

The so-called Colby Fire was reported around 5:50 a.m. near Glendora Mountain Ridge Road, where responding firefighters found a four- to five-acre blaze, according to Los Angeles County Fire Department Deputy Chief John Tripp.

Fueled by gusting winds and fed by exceedingly dry vegetation, the fire exploded across hundreds of acres. Late this afternoon, firefighters had halted the fire's forward progress with about 1,700 acres burned, Tripp said, adding that the blaze was about 30 percent contained.

One resident -- a woman who suffered a minor burn while trying to fight the fire -- was injured but not taken to a hospital, he said.

Two firefighters were also injured. One of them suffered an ankle injury that did not require hospitalization, while the other was taken to a hospital for treatment of a minor burn, Tripp said.

Glendora police Chief Tim Staab said a resident called police shortly after the fire began and reported seeing at least two people near what was believed to be the origin of the blaze.

Officers went to the scene and took three people into custody. They were identified as Clifford Eugene Henry Jr., 22, of Glendora; Jonathan Carl Jarrell, 23, Irwindale; and Steven Robert Aguirre, 21, a transient last known to live in Los Angeles.

"Reportedly, they were up, they had set a campfire," Staab said. "They were tossing papers into the campfire and a breeze -- reportedly -- a breeze had kicked up and set this fire."

Staab described one of the suspects as "apologetic." All three were being held at the Glendora city jail in lieu of $500,000 bail on suspicion of recklessly starting a fire, according to sheriff's online booking records.

The men are due in court in West Covina on Tuesday, according to the sheriff's department.

"They are being cooperative," Staab said. "I've been told by detectives that one has made an admission to our detectives and has admitted to setting this fire."

Staab said the area where the men were found was not a camping area, but people are known to camp in the hills above Glendora.

"They told us they were camping out," he said. "There's no evidence to indicate they were living up there."

One of the homes that was lost was a guest house on the nearly 6-acre campus of the Singer Mansion, a 1920s estate built on Kregmont Drive by heirs to the Singer sewing machine fortune.

The 17 damaged structures include homes, garages and outbuildings, Tripp said.

About 3,700 people were evacuated from the area, and 1,600 of them had been allowed to return home this afternoon, according Ken Kondo of the Los Angeles County Office of Emergency Management.

Evacuations that had been ordered north of Sierra Boulevard between Glendora Mountain Road and Highway 39 and road closures north of Sierra Madre Boulevard between Lorraine and Highway 39 were to be lifted at 6 p.m., Staab said.

An evacuation center was established at Finkbiner Park, near Foothill Boulevard and Grand Avenue in Glendora. The American Red Cross later set up an evacuation center at Glendora High School, 1600 E. Foothill Blvd. Another center was established for Duarte residents at the Duarte Community Center, 1600 Huntington Drive.

Shelter for evacuated pets was available at the Pasadena Humane Society at 361 S. Raymond Ave, according to the humane society.

A shelter for evacuated horses was set up at the Pomona Fairplex, Gate 12, 1101 W. McKinley Ave.

School closures in Glendora included Cullen, La Fetra and Sellers elementary schools; and Goddard and Sandburg middle schools.

Goddard Middle School at 859 E. Sierra Madre Ave. was designated to serve as the unified command post.

All of the schools, including Goddard, will be open on Friday, said Kostas Kalaitzidis of the Los Angeles County Office of Education. Public schools in Duarte will be closed Friday for previously scheduled staff development, he said.

Citrus College in Glendora, which was closed Thursday because of the fire, will reopen on Friday, said college spokeswoman Paula Green.

Also closed Thursday was St. Lucy's Priory High School. It was unclear if the school would reopen on Friday.

Jim Hall of the U.S. Forest Service said at least 700 firefighters were on the scene, aided by eight air tankers and seven helicopters.

Los Angeles County Fire Chief Daryl Osby said earlier Thursday that although homes were destroyed and damaged, fire crews were able to respond quickly to the area due to fire-weather conditions that have gripped the area for the past three days.

"Because of our preparation, we were able to save hundreds, if not thousands, of homes this morning," he said.

 

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