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Twin fires burn more than 3,500 acres and trigger evacuations in San Gabriel Valley

June 20, 2016

A canyon was separating two sprawling wildfires burning a total of 3,500 acres in the San Gabriel Mountains on Monday from merging into one massive blaze, fire officials said.

The two brush fires broke out in Azusa and Duarte amid a blistering heat wave and forced evacuations of homes in the area.

The first blaze, called the Reservoir fire, was reported about 11 a.m. at California 39 in the San Gabriel Mountains, said Andrew Mitchell, spokesman for the Angeles National Forest.

About 300 U.S. Forest Service crew members were tackling the 1,500-acre blaze near Azusa as water-dropping helicopters aided in the firefight.

Azusa police issued mandatory evacuation orders for residents who live in the community of Mountain Cove. U.S. Forest officials said. Camp Williams, structures near Mountain Road and San Gabriel Canyon were also evacuated.

“We have activated the emergency alarm,” police tweeted

More than an hour later, a second fire, 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.

“It’s moving fast,” he said. By 5:30 p.m., the blaze had spread to about 2,000 acres, according to the L.A. County Fire Department.

Flames were moving rapidly uphill and near power lines.

Firefighters were working under “extremely dry conditions, over 100 degree temperatures” and 12- to 15-mph gusts as they battled the Fish fire, Mora said. 

Fire spokesman Joey Napoli said a canyon was the only thing separating the two fires. 

So far, there is no containment of the fires.

Evacuation orders went out for homes near Encanto Parkway and Brookridge Road. The Red Cross, together with the L.A. County Fire Department and city of Duarte, had opened an evacuation center at a recreation facility in the 1600 block of Huntington Drive in Duarte.

By mid-afternoon, 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 hover in the triple digits in Los Angeles and 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.

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In San Diego County, a wildfire fueled by dry brush and sweltering temperatures has scorched 1,500 acres just north of the U.S.-Mexico border and prompted mandatory evacuations for the entire east county community of Potrero. 

About 25 homes south of California 94 and east of California 188, near where the fire initially started about 11:30 a.m. Sunday, were also evacuated. The cause of the fire was not immediately clear.

“Widespread triple-digit heat combined with humidities in the teens and single digits will bring an extended period of elevated fire danger across much of Southwest California through at least Tuesday, with extreme fire danger for parts of the area,” the National Weather Service said.

Gusting winds were expected to last through Tuesday evening for Los Angeles and Ventura counties.

For breaking news in California, follow VeronicaRochaLA on Twitter.


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5:45 p.m.: This article was updated with additional details from the evacuation center and the size of the fires.

2:47 p.m.: This article was updated with new details about the Fish and Reservoir fires.

2:30 p.m.: This article was updated with new details about the Fish fire and evacuation orders.

1:48 p.m.: This article was updated with new details about the Reservoir fire and evacuation orders.

12:54 p.m.: This article was updated with new details about the Duarte fire.

This article was originally published at 12:36 p.m.

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