An out-of-control brush fire in the San Gabriel Mountains north of Glendora forced the evacuation of more than 12,000 people and burned more than 3,600 acres, authorities said Sunday.
Most of those evacuated where visiting the area for the the Labor Day weekend, where recreational activities abound.
Highway 39 in the Angeles National Forest was closed Sunday and will remain shut through today.
Fire officials said Sunday evening that a shift in the fire’s direction lessened danger to homes and residents in the San Gabriel Valley foothills.
With the shift from its original northeast direction to the north, officials said they had no immediate fears that the fire would threaten any foothill communities such as Azusa, San Dimas and Glendora.
Smoke could be seen for miles in the San Gabriel Valley, Inland Empire and High Desert, where people reported falling ash.
Two firefighters suffered minor injures. There was no reports of damaged structures, officials said.
The fire comes 11 years and a day after the Sept. 2001, Curve Fire, which burned in the same area, officials said. It burned more than 25,000 acres and more than 140 structures.
Three weeks later, another wildfire broke out in the same area and scorched more than 35,000 acres before it merged with the still burning Curve Fire.
Sunday’s blaze, which sheriff’s officials said possibly began as a car fire, began sending smoke into the sky shortly after 2:15 p.m. from East Fork Road in Azusa Canyon.
The Camp Williams Resort and River Community rehabilitation center were evacuated as a precaution, said Kirk Smith of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, along with thousand of people who were spending their Sunday in the forest.
An evacuation center was set up at Glendora High School, 1600 E. Foothill Blvd.
On an average Sunday, more than 12,000 people flock to the Angeles National Forest to spend the day, Angeles National Forest recreation officer L’Tanga Watson said. Due to the holiday weekend, the forest was significantly more crowded.
About 300 U.S. Forest Service and Los Angeles County firefighters, with the help of eight water-dropping air craft, fought the fire Sunday, said Nathan Judy of the U.S. National Forest Service.
“The area up here is really steep, rugged terrain,” he added.
Firefighters had established containment lines around about 5 percent of the fire late Sunday, Watson said.
The fire was burning it’s way into the Sheep Mountain Wilderness Area, characterized by highly inaccessible and treacherous terrain, Angeles National Forest spokesman Shaun Rollman said.
It was not clear of officials would use water-dropping helicopters to continue the firefight overnight, Watson said.
Though the U.S. Forest Service recently reversed a policy barring night flights in Southern California, the decision to use them or not would fall to incident commanders, she said.
“It’s definitely a resource that’s available,” Watson said.
The weather was working against firefighters, as temperatures remained in the 90s well into the late afternoon.
“The heat is not helping,” Rollman said.
Lori Felts, 50, of Covina heard about the fire and drove to the area to see what was going on.
“They are great heroes,” Felts said of the firefighters battling the blaze.
“How they responded is beautiful,” she said.
For more information on the fire, call 626-574-5208 or visit inciweb.org.
– From staff reports