The Colby fire that broke out near Glendora, north of Los Angeles on the edge of the Angeles National Forest, exploded in size Thursday morning as dry brush, steep terrain and winds made for rough firefighting conditions.
Plumes of smoke could be seen in the skies throughout Los Angeles County, including Glendale, Burbank and La Cañada.
Nathan Judy, a spokesman for the U.S. Forest Service, said the fire had grown to at least 125 acres by 8 a.m. and that it was moving quickly "going up and down the hills." The fire was reported shortly before 6 a.m., according to the Los Angeles Times.
Judy said that when he arrived at the scene early Thursday morning the fire had burned only four acres. It then grew quickly to 40 acres and then ballooned even further, he said.
Currently the fire is pushing west, he said.
Television helicopter footage showed at least a couple of structures burning.
Mandatory evacuations were in place for areas west of Glendora Boulevard to North Sierra Madre Boulevard, according to an alert issued by the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department.
Classes at several schools in the area were canceled.
County firefighters were working with Forest Service crews to attack the blaze as more water-dropping helicopters were called in.
Rita Abouchedid awoke to neighbors knocking on her door shortly after 6 a.m. urging her to get out. She quickly drove her three teenage children to their grandparents' house and then got back in her car and drove back.
Her husband, who built the house in the 1100 block of Kregmont Drive from the ground up 10 years ago, refused to leave.
"I thought, 'I feel like an idiot, driving back up when everyone's leaving,'" she said. "My husband didn't want to leave, we couldn't leave him alone."
As she stood atop her roof, she said other family and friends had returned to put hoses on the flames as they advanced into her backyard. Palm trees lining her street had started catching fire, and electrical transformers were sparking. The smoke was so thick, "I can't see," she said.
"It's like a dream, it isn't real," Abouchedid said.
Brad Smith, 30, was dropping off a friend on Englewild Drive shortly after 5:30 a.m. when he saw the glow of the flames about a quarter-mile away. After living through a wildfire 10 years ago, he started going door-to-door to alert each person, waking them up.
Within minutes, the flames were advancing on the neighborhood.
"You could feel the heat. It got really scary," Smith said. "I was caught in the middle of it … people were just getting their stuff out and really rushing with what little time they had."
Two hours later, he said the water drops appeared to have arrived just in time to save the homes, although the neighborhood foliage took a beating.
"The houses that I thought were going to be engulfed looked to be spared," he said.
As the flames advanced down the hill, authorities warned residents to prepare to leave at a moment's notice and not take any chances.
"If you feel uncomfortable, if the hairs are standing up on the back of your neck ... just go ahead and evacuate," Judy told KTLA-TV. "Let us do our jobs and take control of this fire and then you can come back in."
The fire comes as the National Weather Service extended red flag warnings for Los Angeles and Ventura counties until 3 p.m. Friday with extremely low humidity worsening already tinder-dry conditions.
An official with the county fire department said a command post had been set up at Goddard Middle School, 859 E. Sierra Madre Ave. in Glendora.
Evacuated pets can be taken to the Pasadena Humane Society at 361 S. Raymond Ave.
--Jason Wells and Ari Bloomekatz, Los Angeles Times