Firefighters continued strengthening containment lines around the 1,906-acre Colby Fire smoldering in the foothills at the northern edge of the San Gabriel Valley Saturday as the last remaining evacuees from Azusa received word they could return home.
The wildfire was 61 percent contained Saturday, leaving firefighters with eight miles of containment lines yet to complete, Angeles National Forest officials said.
Residents of the Mountain Cove neighborhood of Azusa — the only neighborhood still under evacuation orders Saturday — were advised they could return to their homes at 6 p.m. And officials announced the fire was expected to be fully contained by Wednesday.
“Today’s fire operations will be primarily focused on reinforcing containment lines along the fire’s northern perimeter and cooling hot spots,” ANF spokeswoman Jamie Uyehara said.
“There were some flare-ups last night,” Uyehara said. Firefighters also lit controlled burns overnight to clear excess fuel from the path of fire.
Firefighters made “excellent progress” overnight, “taking advantage of the lower temperatures and favorable wind conditions to successfully perform firing operations and reinforce containment lines where possible while working in steep rocky terrain,” U.S. Forest Service officials said in a written statement.
“The fire growth potential is medium,” the forest service statement said. “Fuels remain extremely dry and humidity anticipated in the single digits. Winds are expected to be lower than yesterday at 10 to 15 mph.”
Firefighters worked Saturday in temperatures around 87 degrees.
More than 1,100 personnel continued working the fire Saturday, including 45 hand crews, 104 fire engines and four bulldozers, officials added.
Three water-dropping helicopters and four air tankers were also on-hand should they be needed, though they were also available to be called upon to fight fires elsewhere, Uyehara said.
In addition to fire fighting aircraft, the skies above the fire were occupied with helicopters being operated by Southern California Edison to replace power poles damaged by the fire, Uyehara said.
“The incident team was able to save some of the other poles,” she added.
Despite damage to the electrical infrastructure, only 33 SCE customers were without power in Azusa and Glendora Saturday, according to the utility. All power was expected to be restored by Saturday afternoon.
The fire destroyed five homes in Glendora and damaged 17 other structures since it ignited just before 6 a.m. Thursday near the Colby Trail. Three young men have been arrested on suspicion of starting the fire with a campfire that got out of control and are being held in lieu of $500,000 bail each pending their initial appearances in federal court.
Firefighters light backfires to protect power poles during the Colby Fire early Saturday, Jan. 18, 2013. (Courtesy of the U.S. Forest Service)
PASADENA — A 95-year-old longtime Pasadena resident died late Friday in a fire at his Carlton Avenue home, authorities said.
The man’s officials identity was not released Saturday pending positive identification by coroner’s investigators.
The fatal fire broke out just before 11:40 p.m. inside the front unit of a duplex in the 100 block of Carlton Avenue, Pasadena Fire Department spokeswoman Lisa Derderian said.
The man’s great niece and her teenage son, who live in the rear unit of the duplex, were alerted to the fire when their smoke alarm went off, she said.
“They tried to go in and rescue him, but they were overcome by smoke and flame,” Derderian said. The frantic family members then called 9-1-1, reporting the fire and the elderly man trapped inside the burning home.
“We got there within minutes and did an aggressive attack,” Derderian said.
Firefighters found the man and pulled him outside, officials said. He succumbed to his injuries at the scene.
The elderly man had lived in the home since the early-1970s and had lived in Pasadena even longer, Derderian said. He had become a fixture on his street, where he was known for greeting neighbors from his white lawn chair and passing out homemade jellies and jams.
“He was still physically active at 95 years old,” Derderian said.
Investigators determined the cause to be electrical in nature and ruled the fire accidental, Derderian said. Further details regarding how the fire ignited were not immediately available.
The relatives were not injured, Derderian said, but were displaced from their home due to smoke and water damage.
Officials estimated the fire caused $300,000 worth of damage.
GLENDORA — Residents living at the base of the Colby Trail in Glendora near the origin of the Colby Fire breathed easier once the smoke thinned late Thursday as they recalled tense moments hours earlier when the flames were within stone’s throw of their homes.
Residents throughout the neighborhood immediately began wetting the roofs of their houses with garden hoses as they found flames bearing down on their homes from nearby hillsides, and other grabbed shovels and raced up the trail to do what they could do extinguish the flames with dirt, residents said.
“There was at least 20 guys who grabbed shovels and ran up there,” neighbor Brian Wilmmer, 39, said. “It was actually really neat to see.”
The fire burned within 100 yards of the home of Roger Ellenson, 61.
He said he was already at work when friends, some of them watching the news from other countries, began calling him to tell him about the fire in his neighborhood.
Ellenson rushed home to find flames creeping over a hillside that overlooked his house.
Palm trees occasionally caught fire as hot embers carried by the wind landed on them at the outset of the fire.
“We were all out here wetting out roofs, just to be safe,” Ellenson said.
Wilmmer and Ellenson both elected to remain at their homes despite mandatory evacuation orders, but said they’d stocked their vehicles with irreplaceable items such as family photos in case they had to flee in a hurry.
The neighbors said the Colby Trail is a popular hiking spot, where young people sometimes seek out as a secluded place to hang out to drink alcohol or smoke marijuana.
“Occasionally, you see kids up there. I’m sure they’re drinking, smoking,” Wilmmer said.
Sometimes hikers access the area via the Colby Trail, while others head down from Glendora Mountain Road.
There are seldom problems, Ellenson added. “It’s mostly kids going up there to smoke dope.”
Marijuana was found inside the backpack of one of the three young men accused of accidentally sparking the wildfire with a campfire that got out of control.
PASADENA — Red Flag Warning parking restrictions will begin at 3 a.m. Monday in Pasadena due to increased fire danger, officials said.
Vehicles parked on streets designated with signs as restricted during elevated fire danger will be towed and cited, Pasadena city officials said in a written statement.
Anticipated strong winds and low humidity levels early this week are expected to create, “favorable conditions for rapid fire growth if fire ignition occurs,” according to the statement.
WHITTIER — Authorities have released the names of two men found dead inside their burning home last week.
The bodies of Ruben Nareja Garcia, 31, and Jose Luis Cortez, 34, were found once firefighters extinguished a Jan. 2 fire at their apartment, which sat atop a garage in the 13500 block of Via Del Palma Avenue in Whittier, on the morning of Jan. 2, Los Angeles County Department of Coroner Assistant Chief of Operations Ed Winter said.
The officials identification of the men was delayed due to the burned condition of their bodies, officials said.
Cortez died from smoke inhalation and burns, and the death was ruled an accident, Winter said.
Garcia’s cause of death had not been determined as coroner’s investigators awaited test results, he said.
Investigators initially ruled out arson and were focusing their investigation on the possibility a pile of clothes near an electrical outlet was to blame, Los Angeles County Fire Department Capt. Bryan Kidder said.
SAN DIMAS — A family escaped their burning home unharmed Saturday as a fast-spreading fire engulfed their Via Verde house.
The fire ignited just before 2:20 p.m. inside the attached garage of a single-story home in the 1300 block of Via Verde Avenue, Los Angeles County Fire Department Capt. Todd Woods said.
Four residents — a man, his wife and two adult nieces — were shaken following the fire, but relieved that everyone was safe.
A firefighter was hurt when the roof the burning garage partially collapsed on him, Woods said. He was taken to a hospital for treatment of what were believed to be minor injuries.
Resident Anna Solod, 27, first realized something was amiss.
“I heard a crackling noise, like fireworks,” she said. She also noticed light fixtures near the garage were blinking.
When she opened the door leading from the garage, she said found the interior engulfed in flames.
She alerted the other three residents of the fire as she dialed 9-1-1, and the family made it’s way out of their house, which was rapidly being consumed by flames.
The smoke inside the home became heavy, Solod said. “There were flames everywhere.”
Solod’s uncle, Alex Smirnoff, credited her with getting the family out safely.
“She just runs in. She just screams, ‘The house is on fire,’” he said.
“As I ran toward the garage, I could already see the fire around the door. I tried to peek in, but the backdraft was intense,” Smirnoff said. “It was so quick.”
Once the family escaped the home, the fire continued burning, causing severe damage throughout. A dollar-value estimate of the damage was not available Saturday afternoon.
Along with the damage to the rental home, two Jaguar cars parked inside the garage were destroyed, and at least one more car parked outside was damaged. Smirnoff described one of the destroyed vehicles, a 1974 Jaguar XKE, as his “pride and joy.” The other Jaguar, an XJ6 belonged to his wife.
Firefighters extinguished the flames in about 40 minutes, Woods said, though smoke continued rising from the house more than an hour later.
“It looks like they stopped the fire really well,” Smirnoff said.
Smirnoff, a graphic designer, was especially glad that firefighters managed to save two computers inside his home which contain his life’s work.
“If it wasn’t for them, I probably would be out of work,” he said.
The cause of the fire remained under investigation, Woods said. Nothing suspicious was initially noted.
PASADENA — A fire initially believed to have been sparked by a clothes dryer early Friday displaced a family of four, officials said.
A neighbor reported seeing smoke about 9:45 a.m. in the 500 block of Buckeye Street, Pasadena Fire Department spokeswoman Lisa Derderian said.
A man, woman and two children were not home when the dryer ignited, Derderian said.
Firefighters kept the flames contained to the dryer area, extinguishing the fire before it reached the home’s walls or attic, officials said.
The Red Cross responded to help the displaced family find temporary lodging. Fire officials estimated the fire caused $150,000 worth of damage to the house and its contents.
Exactly how the fire started remained under investigation, however Derderian said Pasadena firefighters respond to several dryer fires each year that are caused by accumulated lint in the lint traps. She also advised residents not to leave clothes dryers running while away from home.
GLENDORA — A family’s home was destroyed, two pet lizards died and cat was missing following a mobile home fire Saturday in Glendora.
A woman and her 8-year-old daughter who were inside the mobile home in the 21200 block of East Arrow Highway when it caught fire just after 3:30 p.m. fire escaped unharmed, Los Angeles County Fire Department Capt. Michael Bernal said. A man and 2-year-old girl who live there were not home at the time.
The fire was first discovered when the 8-year-old girl alerted her mother that she smelled smoke, the captain said.
The mother went to investigate, he said. “She found smoke, and fire going up the wall.”
Firefighters found the mobile home engulfed in flames when they arrived, officials said. They doused the fire in just under 20 minutes, however the home was deemed a total loss.
Two pet lizards that were inside the mobile home died in the fire, Bernal said. The family’s pet cat was missing.
Firefighters determined the cause of the fire was an electrical malfunction, he said.
Officials estimated the fire caused $120,000 worth of damage to the mobile home and its contents.
The manager of the mobile home park where the fire broke out, Royal Palms, offered to place the family in a vacant unit for the night as they made plans to move forward, Bernal added.
LA MIRADA — A man was hospitalized with severe burns after he caught fire while igniting a fire in a fireplace, authorities said.
The 82-year-old man’s wife used a kitchen pan to douse the flames with water before firefighters rushed him to a burn center with third-degree burns over about 50 percent of his body, Los Angeles County Fire Department Capt. Greg Lombardo said.
The woman was taken to a hospital, estimated to be in her late-70s, appeared unharmed but was taken to a hospital as a precaution, officials said.
Officials first responded to the fire about 12:35 p.m. in the 13000 block of Gandara Avenue, Los Angeles County sheriff’s Lt. Jason Skeen said.
The man had been trying to light a fire in the fireplace when items nearby caught fire, as well as the man’s clothing, Lombardo said.
His wife, who was in the backyard at the time, came into the home. “He was on fire when she found him,” Skeen said.
The woman grabbed a kitchen pan and used to douse the fire, which was all-but-extinguished when firefighters arrived, Lombardo said.
Firefighters rushed the badly injured man to the University of California, Irvine Medical Center for treatment.
The fire was determined to be accidental in nature, Lombardo said.
ALTADENA — Coroner’s officials have released the name of a man whose badly burned body was found following a fire inside his unit at a senior citizens’ apartment complex.
Eldrid Sweeney, 81, of Altadena was pronounced dead at the scene of the two-alarm fire that broke out about 1:30 p.m. Dec. 9 in the 26090 block of North Lincoln Avenue, Los Angeles County Department of Coroner Lt. Joe Bale said. An autopsy had been carried out, however Sweeney’s cause of death was not yet determined pending the results of test results.
Sweeney’s identity was previously unconfirmed due to the badly burned condition in which his body was found.
The cause of the fire, which left one other person with minor injuries, was under investigation by the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Arson-Explosives Detail.
Officials estimated the fire caused $1.05 million worth of damage to the building and its contents.