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Raging fires in Azusa and Duarte now 4,900 acres

Firefighters on Tuesday continued to battle twin blazes burning dangerously close to each other in the mountains above Duarte and Azusa, as hundreds of residents were forced to flee and dozens of horses were evacuated.

More than 1,000 firefighters deployed to tame the Reservoir and Fish fires, burning about 1.5 miles apart in Angeles National Forest. The fires are now being managed as a single conflagration called the San Gabriel Complex fire, authorities said. They could connect if winds become gusty.

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Late Tuesday, fire officials said the blazes had burned 4,900 acres, downgrading earlier estimates on the fires' size. The blazes are 10% contained.

Fire crews were "a little short on resources" Tuesday morning and awaiting additional staffing because so many people had been deployed to fight blazes in Santa Barbara and San Diego counties, incident commander Mike Wakoski said at a news conference.

The fires, which broke out Monday as temperatures hit triple digits, were burning in steep, rugged terrain in an "old fuel bed," a region of forest that had not burned for many years, said Angeles National Forest Fire Chief Robert Garcia. The flames moved uphill as the fires spread, forcing crews to rely largely on aircraft.

No structures had been lost as of Tuesday, but the fires had forced the evacuation of at least 770 homes, according to the Los Angeles County Fire Department.

Authorities on Tuesday urged residents of Monrovia and Bradbury to keep an eye on the news and to prepare to evacuate.

Monrovia City Manager Oliver Chi said in a statement that officials had closed Canyon Park, Trask Boy Scout Camp and the Hillside Wilderness Preserve. Officials also have prepared the Monrovia Community Center to serve as an evacuation center in case residents are ordered to leave.

John Tripp, deputy chief of the Los Angeles County Fire Department, said the western flank of the San Gabriel Complex fire would be the biggest threat on Tuesday. Crews were able to use water-dropping helicopters overnight to slow the blaze's advance, but it was still "very uncontrolled."

Tripp advised residents to evacuate early if the flames got close, warning of clogged roadways if fire crews and evacuating residents used the same roads.

Crews are battling the fire amid a brutal heat wave that has already knocked out power to thousands of residents and stoked fires from San Diego to Santa Barbara counties.

Capt. Michael McCormick of the Los Angeles County Fire Department provides an update on efforts to fight the Fish fire burning near Duarte.

The Reservoir fire was reported first at about 11 a.m. Monday at Highway 39 in the San Gabriel Mountains, said Andrew Mitchell, spokesman for Angeles National Forest. The blaze was apparently ignited by a fatal car crash. A vehicle went over the side of the road and plunged to the bottom of a canyon near Morris Reservoir, Tripp said.

More than an hour later, the Fish fire erupted near Brookridge and Opal Canyon roads in Duarte. The cause remains under investigation.

Evacuation orders went out for nearly 700 homes in Duarte, including homes near Encanto Parkway and Brookridge Road.

Azusa police issued evacuation orders for the communities of Rainbow Ranch and Mountain Cove, the latter a gated neighborhood with about 320 homes. U.S. Forest officials said. Camp Williams and structures near Glendora Mountain Road and San Gabriel Canyon also were evacuated.

The Red Cross, together with the L.A. County Fire Department and the city of Duarte, were operating an evacuation center at a recreation facility in the 1600 block of Huntington Drive in Duarte.

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Thirty-five people spent the night at the shelter, said Roxanne Schorbach, a spokesperson for the Red Cross.

The evacuees included Rafat and Manzoor Khan, who live in the Woodbluff neighborhood of Duarte. Their daughter and two young grandchildren were visiting from Irvine on Monday night when sheriff's deputies knocked on their door and told them they had to leave.

"They said take your important things," Rafat Khan said. "I don't know what things are important — everything is important."

The shelter offered the Khans and others a breakfast of fruit and cereal, showers and packages containing shampoo, conditioner, other toiletries, a face mask and bottles of water.

Merla Canoy, who also spent the night, said, "It's better than a bed and breakfast! Except for the beds."

In Bradbury, where voluntary evacuation orders had been given by Tuesday morning, Connie Storey sat like a sentry Tuesday outside the house of a neighbor who had gone to the doctor. As smoke rose from the nearby mountain ridges and helicopters dropped water, she and her neighbors had been keeping watch with binoculars and cellphone news updates.

On Monday, Storey – who lost her house to the Station fire in 2009 -- grew frustrated with onlookers driving through the small foothill community to take photos of the fire and wildlife fleeing the flames. She said she had to warn one man who was too busy trying to photograph the fire that he didn't see a bear coming his way.

"It's a three-ring circus," she said.

Storey worried about embers from the fires lighting up nearby vacant houses with dry brush around them.

"We've complained to the city many times," she said.

The fires triggered a smoke advisory from the South Coast Air Quality Management District. Smoke from the fires could be seen from Kenneth Hahn State Recreation Area in Baldwin Hills.

A total of six active fires were burning in California on Tuesday, three of them in Southern California.

The Sherpa fire, which broke out last week near Santa Barbara, was 70% contained and had burned 7,969 acres, according to the U.S. Forest Service.

Officials said communities under evacuation at that blaze may start to return home Wednesday morning unless conditions change dramatically.

In San Diego County, a wildfire fueled by dry brush and sweltering temperatures has scorched 7,500 acres just north of the U.S.-Mexico border and prompted mandatory evacuations for the entire east county community of Potrero. The fire was about 5% contained, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.

About 25 homes south of State Route 94 and east of State Route 188, near where the fire was initially sparked about 11:30 a.m. Sunday, were also evacuated.

The Border fire has destroyed four outbuildings and left three firefighters with minor injuries. The cause is under investigation.

Times staff writers Joseph Serna, Veronica Rocha and Matt Hamilton contributed to this report.

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UPDATES:

7:06 p.m.: This article was updated with recent figures about the size of the wildfires.

2:06 p.m.:  This article was updated throughout.

10:23 a.m.: This article was updated throughout.

This article was originally published at 6:57 a.m.

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