The police officer who detained suspects Thursday in connection with a fast-moving wildfire near Los Angeles said she “knew immediately” the men were involved.
At least two homes have been destroyed in Glendora as the Colby fire burned through more than 1,700 acres in the Angeles National Forest northeast of Los Angeles.
Glendora police Cpl. Nancy Miranda said she was helping with evacuations on North Palm Drive when a resident flagged her down and pointed to two men running down the hill, away from the fire.
Miranda said the men were running in the wash alongside the road. It seemed like they were trying not to be seen, she said. When she stopped the pair, they said they were running because they were scared of the fire, she said.
“They said their friend was with them and they had lost him,” she said.
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 smelled like 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, Glendora Police Chief Tim Staab said, was picked up by forest officials as he walked down Glendora Mountain Road.
“A U.S. Forest Service truck offered him a ride because he was in a dangerous area,” he said.
The man was taken farther down the hill away from the growing blaze and police began looking into his activity.
“Anybody in that area at that time of morning is someone we want to talk to,” Staab said.
Investigators later learned of his alleged involvement, and also booked him in the Glendora jail. The suspects -- identified as Clifford Eugene Henry, 22, of Glendora; Jonathan Carl Jarrell, 23, of Irwindale; and Steven Robert Aguirre, 21, a Los Angeles transient were arrested on suspicion of recklessly starting a fire. They are now being held in lieu of $20,000 bail.
One person suffered some burns and was taken to a local hospital for treatment.
“There’s absolutely no evidence that these three men started the fire on purpose,” Staab told The Times on Thursday afternoon.
The trio had been sitting around a campfire “trying to stay warm,” Staab said, when a “gust of wind came up.”
“That’s what started the fire,” the chief said.
Staab said one of the suspects admitted starting the fire and was "apologetic."
The area is not a designated camping spot and access to the area is restricted because of fire concerns.
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 hot and dry weather and gusty winds.