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Nervous residents in Monrovia prepare for the worst as winds, fire head their way

An L.A. County fire protection crew surveys a residential area in Duarte on Tuesday amid a threat from the Bobcat fire.
Members of a fire structure protection crew in L.A. County survey a residence on Brookridge Road in Duarte on Tuesday amid a threat from the Bobcat fire.
(Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times)

The green wildland firetruck made its way up Ridgeside Drive in Monrovia, past a line of two-story homes and the occasional residents talking outside.

Among them was 60-year-old Cliff Armstrong, a cable marketer, who has lived in the Cloverleaf Canyon neighborhood for 21 years. He said Tuesday that he has never seen so many firefighters moving in and around the area before.

Earlier in the day, Armstrong was watching helicopters dip large buckets into a sawpit debris basin. He saw firetrucks traveling up and down the street for the last two days.

“I’ve never seen this level of preparation before,” he said.

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“And different agencies, too,” his neighbor chimed in.

“I’ve seen trucks from Alhambra, Santa Ana, San Bernardino and San Marino too,” Armstrong said. “I’m wondering if they’re not anticipating much air support.”

A marine layer had helped slow the Bobcat fire in the Angeles National Forest the night before, but it also kept air crews from dumping water on the Bobcat fire.

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Wildland fire officials fear a Santa Ana wind event could push the fire toward the Cloverleaf Canyon neighborhood and other foothill communities that sit along the San Gabriel Mountains.

At 0% containment, the fire has burned 8,553 acres, nearly doubling in size since Monday.

“The big worry is the weather model, which is forecasting a shift in the winds to Santa Ana winds,” said Angeles National Forest representative John Clearwater, “and there is a possibility of that fire being pushed south. South of the fire line is our foothill communities.”

The nearby cities of Arcadia, Duarte and Sierra Madre are also urging residents to remain vigilant.

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The National Weather Service has issued a red flag warning through 8 p.m. Tuesday for the mountains and valleys of Ventura and Los Angeles counties.

Intense Diablo winds are forecast for parts of Northern California while Santa Ana winds are expected in Southern California.

Residents such as Armstrong say if they’re forced to evacuate it would be the first time they will have to flee their homes. Fires have come and gone through this area, including the Station fire in 2009.

Armstrong said he stayed behind, watering his home during that blaze.

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“I don’t think I’ll risk it this time,” he said.

Neighbors have started packing up their cars and moving vehicles to the homes of friends living away from the mountains or in other cities. They share tips with one another about how to best defend their homes from a fire.

Outside their homes, Armstrong and his neighbor talk about those efforts. His neighbor tells him he’s removed all the cushions around the patio and floor mats, anything that is combustible.

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“Oh, right, right. Well, wait a minute,” Armstrong said. “I have a garage full of toilet paper and paper towels because of the COVID thing, man,”

He chuckled.

“Remember it was hard to find? So I have a bunch of paper goods sitting in the garage.”

Most residents here say there are confident that firefighters will protect their homes. So far they have been patrolling the area nonstop.

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A woman on Oakglade Drive, who declined to provide her name due to privacy concerns, said she has lived in the Cloverleaf Canyon neighborhood for more than 40 years. She said despite the fires that have threatened the area, she has been blessed with luck. A fire that reached the ridge of the canyon behind her home became less threatening when the winds died out. The fire burned out, she said.

“I think I’m blessed,” she said. “I’m already blessed to live here.”

“Plus, the firefighters have been working nonstop,” she added.

Back on Ridgeside Drive, the whole scenario seem surreal to Armstrong. On Friday, his father-in-law died. His son was about to start university courses online while anticipating having to evacuate. At first, Armstrong said, he was thinking of renting a hotel room but worried about the novel coronavirus.

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“There’s nobody in our office in Glendale, and I was going to go to there with sleeping bags,” he said.

But with family up north, he said he would be staying at his sister-in-law’s home in Chino Hills for the time being.

“2020 is just a year,” he said. “This one is for the history books.”


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