June 21, 2016
Firefighters working to stop two brush fires burning in Azusa and Duarte from combining into one massive blaze faced another day of wind and triple-digit temperatures, the National Weather Service said.
The two brush fires broke out amid a blistering heat wave, forcing the evacuation of hundreds of homes and at least 750 residents. Though it will be as much as 10 degrees cooler Tuesday, it’s still expected to be up to 100 degrees around the fires, said Andrew Rorke, a senior forecaster with the National Weather Service.
“The trends are good, but it’s still not going to be a pleasant fire day,” Rorke said.
The first blaze, called the Reservoir fire, was reported about 11 a.m. at Highway 39 in the San Gabriel Mountains, said Andrew Mitchell, spokesman for the Angeles National Forest.
The fire 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, said John Tripp, deputy chief of the Los Angeles County Fire Department.
About 300 U.S. Forest Service crew members were tackling the 1,500-acre blaze near Azusa as water-dropping helicopters aided.
Azusa police issued mandatory 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 were also evacuated.
More than an hour later, a second blaze, dubbed the Fish fire, erupted near Brookridge Road and Opal Canyon Road in Duarte, said Capt. Keith Mora, spokesman for the Los Angeles County Fire Department.
By 9 p.m., the blaze had spread to about 3,000 acres, according to the L.A. County Fire Department.
The winds that helped steer the fire Monday will have largely subsided Tuesday, Rorke said, but gusts of up to 25 mph will still hamper the firefighting.
The flames on Monday moved rapidly uphill and near power lines, preventing any containment of either fire.
“The biggest challenge is this is extremely rugged terrain and it’s not very accessible, so we’re really having to rely on our aircraft,” Tripp said, adding that fire crews were also surveying which ridges would be accessible for bulldozers and hand crews.
Evacuation orders went out for nearly 700 homes in Duarte, including homes near Encanto Parkway and Brookridge Road.
The Red Cross, together with the L.A. County Fire Department and the city of Duarte, had opened an evacuation center at a recreation facility in the 1600 block of Huntington Drive in Duarte.
By midafternoon, few had arrived at the evacuation center.
Valerie Kiernicki, 59, had been sewing at her home near Fish Canyon about 1:30 p.m. when she heard helicopters overhead and went outside to see what was happening.
“And I saw flames about 25 feet in front of me,” she said. “I started packing and panicking.”
She and her husband grabbed their computer and safe deposit box, and she brought her two cats to the evacuation center. No official called or came to Kiernicki’s door telling her to evacuate, as the area was not officially under evacuation orders.
But Kiernicki was set on leaving.
“The fire was just too close to me,” she said. “The flames were right there. Smoke was going up and when the ash landed, I didn’t want to be standing there.”
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 red-flag warning has been issued for Southern California through Tuesday morning. Temperatures are expected to remain in the 90s near the Sherpa fire in Santa Barbara County, authorities said. That blaze is the largest active fire in California, according to state and federal data.
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 so-called Border fire has destroyed four outbuildings and left three firefighters with minor injuries. The cause is under investigation.
Times staff writer Matt Hamilton contributed to this report.
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