Amid soaring temperatures and bone-dry conditions, a pair of fast-moving brush fires tore through vegetation Monday in the Angeles National Forest and the foothills above Duarte and Azusa, exploding across more than 3,000 acres and prompting evacuations of select neighborhoods.
The initial fire, dubbed the Reservoir Fire, broke out shortly after 11 a.m. off Highway 39 near the Morris Reservoir dam north of Azusa, according to Sherry Rollman of the U.S. Forest Service. That fire grew to more than 100 acres within an hour, then spiked to 1,200 acres by 2:45 p.m.
At least 300 firefighters from the U.S. Forest Service and the Los Angeles County Fire Department were battling the blaze, but there was no containment as of mid-afternoon.
The fire was sparked by a vehicle running off the highway. The California Highway Patrol received report at 10:57 a.m. of a fatal car crash along Highway 39 near the reservoir where the fire broke out, said CHP Officer Alex Rubio.
"There was a collision there, a vehicle went over the side (of the road)," Rubio said. The car was on fire when officers responded, he said.
No information about the victim was available, and the crash remained under investigation, Rubio said.
About 90 minutes after the Reservoir Fire began, a second blaze was reported near Opal Canyon and Brookridge roads near the Duarte/Azusa border, about four miles southwest of the Reservoir Fire.
That blaze, dubbed the Fish Fire, quickly roared into the foothills, burning north away from homes but threatening some remote horse stables.
That brush fire consumed at least 100 acres in less than an hour and burned rapidly uphill, according Capt. Keith Mora of the Los Angeles County Fire Department. By late afternoon, the flames had roared across more than 2,000 acres, also with no containment.
The two fires appeared to be burning toward each other, spurring fears that they would merge.
As of 3:30 p.m., Mora said the two fires were separated by a canyon and had not merged into one. About 195 county firefighters were on the scene battling the blaze in temperatures of more than 100 degrees. Crews worked to protect structures and prevent damage to power lines on hilltops, he said.
According to the National Weather Service, the temperature in Duarte was 109 degrees at 5 p.m., with humidity of only 10 percent.
Mora said preliminary reports indicate the Fish Fire might have started from a spot fire originating from the Reservoir Fire, but he could not confirm the cause of either blaze. At least three water-dropping helicopters were being used in the firefight, along with a fixed-wing aircraft dropping fire retardant.
Evacuation orders were issued in Azusa for the Mountain Cove, El Encanto and Rainbow Ranch areas, with an evacuation center established at Memorial Park, 320 N. Orange Ave. Voluntary evacuations were in effect for the Mirador and Crystal Canyon areas.
In Duarte, mandatory evacuation orders were issued for residents on Brookridge Road, with voluntary evacuations in effect for residents north of Fish Canyon Road from Greenbank Avenue to Encanto Parkway. The Red Cross established an evacuation center at the Duarte Community Center, 1600 Huntington Drive.
According to the county Department of Public Works, about 600 homes total were evacuated due to the fires.
Highway 39 was blocked in the Angeles National Forest due to the Reservoir Fire.
Smoke from both fires billowed into the air, creating a plume visible for miles. The South Coast Air Quality Management District issued a smoke advisory because of the blazes, urging residents in smoke-affected areas to avoid strenuous outdoor activity.