Drones force firefighters to temporarily halt air assault on wildfire

A wildfire that has scorched more than 5,200 acres in the San Gabriel Mountains above Duarte and Azusa was 62% contained as of early Sunday morning, according to the U.S. Forest Service.

The San Gabriel Complex fire is actually two fires that started on Monday — the Reservoir fire and the Fish fire — that forced hundreds of residents to evacuate over the last week as high temperatures baked Southern California.

By Saturday, firefighters appeared to be gaining the upper hand. Evacuation orders were lifted and an American Red Cross evacuation center was closed. The forest service also reopened the Chantry Flats Recreation Area.

Fire officials complained, however, that several drones had been spotted over the fire this weekend, forcing them to temporarily halt air operations. Some firefighters have been airlifted by helicopter to remote stretches of the fire.

The U.S. Forest Service warned Sunday that flight restrictions were in effect and that operators of private aircraft or drone could face serious criminal charges if found in violation of those regulations. “When drones interfere with firefighting efforts, a wildfire has the potential to grow larger and cause more damage,” the agency stated in an incident report.

More than 900 firefighters were battling the wildfire as of Sunday morning.

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emily.alpert@latimes.com

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