Wildfire Burns Homes, Forces Evacuations in Calif.

GLENDORA, Calif. (AP) -
A large fire plume rises above the downtown skyline from the fast-growing Colby fire in Southern California from the Baldwin Hills Scenic Overlook Thursday morning. (Al Seib/Los Angeles Times/MCT)
A large fire plume rises above the downtown skyline from the fast-growing Colby fire in Southern California from the Baldwin Hills Scenic Overlook Thursday morning. (Al Seib/Los Angeles Times/MCT)

Nearly 2,000 residents were evacuated and two homes burned in a wildfire that started early Thursday when three people tossed paper into a campfire in the dangerously dry and windy foothills of Southern California’s San Gabriel Mountains, authorities said.

Embers from the fire fanned by gusty Santa Ana winds quickly spread into neighborhoods below where residents were awakened in the pre-dawn darkness and ordered to leave.

The three suspects, all men in their 20s, were arrested on charges of recklessly starting the fire that spread smoke across the Los Angeles basin and cast an eerie cloud all the way to the coast.

One resident suffered minor burns in the neighborhood abutting Angeles National Forest, just north of the San Gabriel Valley community of Glendora, according to Los Angeles County Fire Chief Daryl L. Osby. Hundreds of homes were saved because of firefighters’ preparations, he said.

At least 2 1/2 square miles of dry brush were charred in the wilderness area about 25 miles northeast of downtown Los Angeles.

Ash rained down on the city, said Jonathan Lambert, 31, general manager of Classic Coffee.

“We’re underneath a giant cloud of smoke,” he said. “It’s throwing quite the eerie shadow over a lot of Glendora.”

Police said the three suspects were detained near Colby Trail, where the fire was believed to have started. At least one was homeless, Glendora Police Chief Tim Staab said. Police identified the suspects as Robert Aguirre, 21, of Los Angeles; Jonathan Carl Jarrell, 23, of Irwindale; and Clifford Eugene Henry, Jr., 22, of Glendora.

The notorious Santa Anas, linked to the spread of Southern California’s worst wildfires, picked up at daybreak. The extremely dry Santa Anas blow downslope and can push fires out of the mountains and into communities below. The area, which has been historically dry, has been buffeted by the winds which have raised temperatures into the 80s. The Santa Anas typically begin in the fall and last through winter into spring. A wet winter reduces fire risk, but the whole state is experiencing historically dry conditions.