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370-acre Montebello blaze was rare brush fire in middle of urban area, officials say

The brush fire that exploded in parts of Montebello and spread into unincorporated Los Angeles County before being contained wasn't the largest burning in the heat wave that baked the region over the weekend, but it may have been the most unusual.

It's rare for a blaze in the middle of urban and suburban L.A. to grow as quickly as the Lincoln fire did, said county fire Assistant Chief Nick Duvally. The fire burned in a riverbed a short distance from the Shops at Montebello mall, the 60 Freeway, the Whittier Narrows Recreation Area and homes, sending ash into neighboring cities.

Duvally said the blaze, which grew to about 370 acres and was 80% contained by Monday afternoon, was a testament to how dry most of Southern California has become after years of drought. He said some veteran firefighters "haven't seen a piece like this burn in 50 years."

He said it was fortunate that winds were weak and that paved roads acted as fire breaks.

Fire officials said that after several days of triple-digit temperatures, the expected gradual cooling trend would help in fighting the blazes. At least 150 firefighters were tackling the Lincoln fire Monday.

A homeless man was arrested on suspicion of starting the fire. "We don't know if it was malicious intent or just a reckless fire," Lt. Michael Bergman of the Montebello Police Department said Sunday.

Duvally said the urban setting didn't affect how the firefighters fought the blaze.

"For us it's just like being in Santa Clarita," he said. "Our No. 1 responsibility after lives in this situation is structures."

Dan Amador, deputy chief of the Montebello Fire Department, said the fast-moving blaze, which was reported about 1:15 p.m. Sunday, jumped across Lincoln Avenue and spread into the Montebello Hills. No structures were damaged.

The fire forced officials to close the 60 Freeway and to evacuate the Whittier Narrows Recreation Area, including Legg Lake and a nearby shooting range.

Durfee Avenue runs through the recreation area. On one side of the road, the burned brush ran all the way up to oil derricks in the Montebello Hills, prompting the closure of fields operated by PXP Oil.

On the other side of Durfee Avenue, people were out exercising Monday, even though many of the roads into the area were closed.

Flor Hernandez was speedwalking with her daughter and niece. They live on Andrew Street, right behind South El Monte High School.

"They didn't let me go home yesterday," Hernandez said. "I first found out about [the fire] because I saw it from the freeway."

As close as the fire was to their house, Hernandez's niece was frustrated by the loss of electricity.

"We had no Internet," said Aaliyah Hernandez, 13. "I was dying."

Three Montebello firefighters suffered injuries fighting the blaze: One had neck and back injuries associated with the hard landing of a helicopter, one suffered heat exhaustion and one injured his shoulder. One L.A. County firefighter was also injured.

More than 13,000 firefighters are battling 19 wildfires across California, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.

North of Glendora, the Cabin fire has burned more than 1,700 acres, destroying three cabins and an outhouse. The blaze was 84% contained Monday, officials said. Ten firefighters have suffered minor injuries while battling the flames.

The Warm fire that started Sunday in Castaic has spread to 300 acres. Six vacant structures at an abandoned rehabilitation facility were destroyed. The blaze was 50% contained Monday.

And in San Luis Obispo County, the wind-driven Cuesta fire pushed northeast Monday afternoon and forced residents along California 58 and in the Miller Flats community from their homes.

The blaze, burning east of U.S. 101 and about eight miles north of San Luis Obispo, grew from 100 to 300 acres as embers jumped containment lines.

Cal Fire warned that while temperatures will be cooler statewide, dry and warm conditions will continue and increase the threat of wildfires.

For breaking news in California, follow @VeronicaRochaLA on Twitter.

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Twitter: @boreskes

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