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Colby fire remains 30% contained; weather favors firefighters

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The Colby fire burning near Glendora and Azusa has grown to more than 1,800 acres but firefighters were hopeful that winds would remain calm Saturday as humidity levels rise, slowing the fire and allowing some evacuated residents to return home.

“It depends a lot on Mother Nature,” said Capt. Roland Sprewell, a spokesman for the Los Angeles County Fire Department. “We are working diligently. But we are challenged by the steep terrain. The fire crews are in billy-goat country, basically.”

The fire remained 30% contained early Saturday, Sprewell said. Winds are blowing at 15 to 20 mph, with low humidity levels expected to rise this afternoon.

Mandatory evacuations have been lifted for many Azusa residents but remain in effect for about 300 homes in Mountain Cove, or about 1,000 residents, Sprewell said. If all goes well, some residents as well as some of the roughly 1,100 firefighters battling the blaze will be allowed to return home today, he said.

Just before 6 a.m. Thursday, three men started an illegal campfire near Colby Trail and Glendora Mountain Road, said Glendora Police Chief Tim Staab. The men were cold, he said, and were tossing paper into the fire when a gust of wind "just blew embers all over the place."

The suspects -- 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 -- were arrested within hours on suspicion of recklessly starting a fire. Staab said Friday the men would face federal charges, expected to be filed next week.

At least five homes were destroyed and 17 other structures damaged. Officials said at least three people, including two firefighters, were injured.

On Saturday, public health officials and air quality regulators issued a warning to those who live in or near the fire and smoke-filled areas, particularly people who suffer from heart disease, asthma or other respiratory ailments. People were advised to stay indoors as much as possible even in areas where smoke, soot, or ash cannot be seen or there is no odor of smoke.

"It is difficult to tell where ash or soot from a wildfire will go, or how winds will affect the level of dust particles in the air, so we ask all individuals to be aware of their immediate environment and how it might affect their health," said Dr. Jonathan E. Fielding, the county's public health officer.

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kate.mather@latimes.com

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