Police identify suspect in connection with Ranch Fire in Azusa

Posted at 9:58 PM, Aug 14, 2020
and last updated 2020-08-15 00:58:04-04

AZUSA (CNS) - A 36-year-old homeless man, who authorities believe to be violent, is wanted by authorities for questioning Friday evening "in connection to starting" the 1,500-acre fire burning in Azusa, which investigators have determined to be arson.

Osmin Palencia's last known residence is an encampment in the Azusa Canyon Riverbed, near the start of the Ranch 2 Fire, according to the Azusa Police Department.

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.

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."

The blaze was 0% contained and had blackened about 1,500 acres as of 4:50 p.m. Friday, according to the Angeles National Forest. Fire officials had initially reported the blaze burned 2,500 acres, but firefighters updated the number after they "were able to more accurately assess fire size and map the area after the smoke inversion lifted" Friday afternoon.

Residents in the Mountain Cove area of Azusa were allowed to go home Friday morning after evacuation orders were lifted because the blaze, re-named the Ranch 2 Fire, was no longer burning toward homes, according to Daniela Zepeda of the U.S. Forest Service.

"Firefighters did a really good job securing the perimeter of the fire closer to homes," Zepeda said. That is despite having an army of just 100 firefighters and waiting for reinforcements.

Winds had calmed down to 5-10 mph with gusts up to 15 mph and relative humidity was 31% but extreme temperatures of 105-108 degrees were forecast, Zepeda said.

Visibility in the area is a quarter-mile to a half-mile due to smoke, which makes it hard to get people to the remaining flames and the remaining fire is on terrain that is steep and difficult to access, she said.

The name of the blaze was changed from the Ranch Fire to the Ranch 2 Fire to avoid confusion with the November 2019 Ranch Fire near the Mendocino National Forest and the July 2018 Ranch Fire that was part of the Mendocino Complex Fire, Zepeda said.

Anyone with information about Palencia's whereabouts was encouraged to contact the Azusa Police Department at 626-812-3200.