Evacuation orders have been lifted for Glendora neighborhoods in the foothills of the San Gabriel Mountains that were threatened earlier in the day by the Colby fire.
Residents who live in areas north of Sierra Madre Boulevard bounded by Yucca Drive on the west and Glendora Mountain Road on the east were being allowed back into their homes, police said Thursday night.
Neighborhoods in Azusa west of Yucca Drive and north of Sierra Madre to California 39 were still closed as fire crews continued to battle the 1,700-acre blaze, authorities said.
Earlier Thursday, fire officials said they had stopped the forward progress of the wind-stoked wildfire. But they cautioned that wind gusts, which were picking up in canyon areas Thursday night, could create problems for the more than 700 firefighters who were battling the Colby fire.
On Thursday night, wind gusts were 9 mph and the temperature was 69 degrees in the fire area, according to the National Weather Service. The blaze was 30% contained.
Five homes were destroyed, 17 outbuildings and other structures were damaged and two firefighters and one resident received non-life-threatening injuries as the flames raged across the area east of downtown Los Angeles.
One firefighter and the resident were burned and another firefighter was injured by a rolling boulder, officials said.
The Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department said it had hundreds of deputies ready to help evacuate residents in Duarte and Bradbury, east of the fire, should the blaze threaten those areas.
Three men were arrested in connection with starting the blaze. They were identified by police as Clifford Eugene Henry, 22, of Glendora; Jonathan Carl Jarrell, 23, of Irwindale; and Steven Robert Aguirre, 21, a Los Angeles transient. They have been arrested in connection with the fire and are being held at the Glendora city jail in lieu of $20,000 bail.
The men were hanging out near where the Colby trail meets Glendora Mountain Road — an area that is not a designated camping spot — when they started a campfire to try to stay warm, Glendora Police Chief Tim Staab said.
The men were tossing pieces of paper onto the fire, Staab said, when a gust of wind “just blew embers all over the place.”
“They got scared and ran,” Staab told The Times. “Two ran in one direction, one ran in the other.”
The men that took off together were eventually spotted by a resident, who flagged down Glendora Police Cpl. Nancy Miranda. Miranda was helping with evacuations along North Palm Drive when she was alerted to the men running in a wash alongside the road.
When she stopped the men, Miranda said, they said they were running because they were scared of the flames.
When Miranda asked the men if they had anything to do with the blaze about three miles away, they denied it, she said. But the men were disheveled — out of breath, covered in ash and they smelled of smoke.
“I knew immediately that something was off,” she said.
Miranda quickly searched their backpacks, finding marijuana and cigarettes. She took them to the Glendora Police Department, she said, with no sign of their missing friend.
That man, Staab said, was actually walking down Glendora Mountain Road when a U.S. Forest Service employee stopped and offered him a ride “because he was in a dangerous area.”
“They brought him to us. We said, ‘Hey, what were you doing up there?’ ” Staab said. “We learned he was one of the three.”
The chief said there was “absolutely no evidence that these three men started the fire on purpose.” One had apologized he said, and “was remorseful.”
It was unclear what the men were doing in the area, Staab said. Miranda said the area was sometimes frequented by transients and teenagers.
Staab said all three men were booked on felony suspicion of recklessly starting a fire. But the chief said the investigation was ongoing, and the men could face additional charges or enhancements because of the serious consequences of their alleged actions.
“They just didn’t show very much common sense this morning in starting this camp fire,” Staab said. “Especially when it’s breezy out? Especially when it’s the driest season on record? Please.”
The Colby fire started at 5:55 a.m. and quickly grew, but fire officials said they were well staffed and ready to fight it because of red flag alerts issued in response to the hot, dry weather and gusty winds.
When firefighters arrived, they immediately called a second alarm. The fire was inaccessible by engines and burning away from the road, said Jim Tomaselli of the U.S. Forest Service.
About 700 fire personnel battled the blaze as well as more than a dozen aircraft.