Homeless man arrested for allegedly starting Ranch 2 Fire in Azusa

Posted at 5:08 PM, Aug 16, 2020
and last updated 2020-08-16 20:08:34-04

AZUSA (CNS) - A homeless man suspected of intentionally starting the Ranch 2 Fire in Azusa surrendered to authorities Sunday, while firefighters endured another day battling the blaze amid scorching temperatures.

The fire, which grew to 2,256 acres overnight, was just 7% contained Sunday.

The man suspected of intentionally starting the fire, 36-year-old Osmin Palencia, was in custody at the Azusa Police Department jail. Police did not release further information except to say that the investigation was still active, and urged anyone with information about the fire's origin to call 626- 812-3200.

On Saturday, police said Palencia was believed to have a connection to the Monrovia area and possibly a woman known as "Madonna Ortiz." They added he is violent and has multiple active arrest warrants.

Palencia also had four misdemeanor arrests over the last two years, three by Azusa police and one by sheriff's deputies, according to jail records.

Palencia's last known residence is an encampment in the Azusa Canyon Riverbed, police said.

A witness who lives in a riverbed near Mountain Cove told NBC4 an argument between two homeless men sparked the fire.

"There were two gentlemen in the back (of a homeless encampment) fighting and they were arguing over a bike and one guy said he'd burn the other guy out, and things got escalated to where the fire started," evacuee Jimmy Pockets told the station. "Ran over to try to put it out but it just took off so quick."

Firefighters said high temperatures, slope, aspect and winds "came into alignment" overnight, causing the fire to became very active at the bottom of Roberts Canyon and move upslope amid dense mixed-chaparral fuels, sending a large pyrocumulus cloud formation into the sky that could be seen throughout much of the Southland.

Firefighting aircraft were grounded for the night Saturday due to a drone flying in the fire area that was spotted at 6 p.m. Officials noted that there is a temporary flight restriction in the vicinity, and flying drones there is illegal.

All earlier evacuations orders have been lifted, but the following road closures remained in effect:

  • San Gabriel Canyon Road/Highway 39: closed at Northbound Hwy 39 at Sierra Madre Avenue (southbound Highway 39 is closed at East Fork Road)
  • Glendora Mountain Road: closed from Big Dalton to East Fork
  • Glendora Ridge Road: closed from Glendora Mountain Road to Mt. Baldy Road
  • Santa Anita Canyon Road: closed from Arno Drive to Chantry Flats Road

The Angeles National Forest changed its Forest Fire Danger Level from very high to extreme, and moved into full fire restrictions including prohibiting campfires in developed sites. Cooking stoves, lanterns and similar devices that use propane, white gas or similar fuels were prohibited.

The Ranch 2 Fire was reported about 2:45 p.m. Thursday near North San Gabriel Canyon Road and North Ranch Road, according to the Azusa Police Department and Los Angeles County Fire Department, which called in a second- alarm response.

The number of personnel committed to fighting the blaze had reached 286 Sunday.