Hundreds of firefighters were battling a wildfire Thursday in the San Gabriel Mountains north of Glendora that quickly spread to 1,700 acres, burning homes, injuring three people and forcing evacuations amid a regional fire-weather warning.
The Colby Fire destroyed five homes and damaged 17 other structures after breaking out at approximately 5:50 a.m, according to the Los Angeles County Fire Department.
The blaze was 30 percent contained by 4:30 p.m., and helicopters with night-vision goggles were set to work overnight in support of firefighters on the ground, and to protect homes and people, authorities said.
“The forward spread of the fire has stopped,” said county fire Deputy Chief John Tripp at an afternoon news conference. “We’ve seen the hazard in the community start to subside.”
After dark on Thursday evening, flames from a flare-up could be seen coming down steep slopes in Azusa toward San Gabriel Canyon Road north of Sierra Madre Avenue.
The blaze began near the intersection of Glendora Mountain Road and Colby Motorway, and left two firefighters and one resident with minor injuries, according to Tripp.
Three men in their 20s had been arrested and booked on suspicion of recklessly starting the fire, Glendora police Chief Tim Staab said. A county prosecutor was at the city’s jail, talking to the U.S. Attorney’s Office about whether to fire state or federal charges against the men, he said.
A resident had called police to report two of the men “suspiciously” walking from the fire, Staab said; those two were arrested by police, while the U.S. Forest Service took a third man into custody two hours later.
The suspects were identified as Clifford Eugene Henry, Jr., 22, of Glendora; Jonathan Carl Jarrell, 23, of Irwindale; and Steven Aguirre, 21, a homeless man from Los Angeles.
“They were tossing papers into [a] campfire and a breeze reportedly kicked up and set this fire,” Staab said. “One was very remorseful for starting this fire.”
The three suspects were being held at the Glendora city jail in lieu of $20,000 bail.
The damage from the fire had not yet been estimated.
Multiple helicopters had been deployed to the scene, and two super-scooper tanker planes also made water drops from overhead.
Winds of 5 to 10 mph were contributing to the spread of the blaze in the morning, said Nathan Judy, spokesman for the Angeles National Forest. The fire was moving toward the west, the Sheriff’s Department stated around noon.
By afternoon, the fire was no longer actively moving and the fire’s estimated size remained at 1,700 acres, Tripp said.
Evacuation orders in Glendora were set to be lifted by 6 p.m., while parts of Azusa remained under mandatory evacuation orders.
Related: Colby Fire Evacuation Information
Three evacuation centers were open: one at the American Legion Building, 159 North Cullen Ave. in Glendora, near Finkbiner Park (map); another at Glendora High School, 1600 East Foothill Blvd. (map); a third center was located at Memorial Park, 320 North Orange Place in Azusa (map.)
The Memorial Park shelter was set to close at 9:00 p.m. Thursday. Everyone at the shelter, including animals, will be moved to Glendora High School, according to the City of Azusa.
Animals taken to the Los Angeles County Animal Care and Control’s evacuation trailers were being transported to the Baldwin Park Care Center on N. Elton Street.
The sheriff’s department warned residents that wild animals may be driven into their neighborhoods due to the fire.
A commander center had been set up at Goddard Middle School.
Five campuses in the Glendora Unified School District were closed as of 10 a.m.: La Fetra Elementary School, Cullen Elementary School, Goddard Middle School, Sandburg Middle School and Sellers Elementary School. An automated phone recording was being sent out to parents, asking them to pick up their children.
Glendora High, Whitcomb, Stanton, Sutherland and Williams Educational Center remained open, according to the district’s website.
All schools in Azusa were expected to be in session Friday, but outdoor activities would be limited, according to a tweet from Azusa police.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency approved California’s request for federal funds to fight the fire, the U.S. agency announced Thursday afternoon.
The authorization means up to 75 percent of “eligible firefighting costs” can be reimbursed from a federal grant, according to FEMA.
“At the time of the request, the fire was threatening 500 homes … with a combined population of 100,000,” FEMA said in a news release. “The fire is also threatening Little Canyon Reservoir, potable water supplies, secondary power lines, and wilderness preserves.”
The blaze came as a red flag warning was in effect for much of the Los Angeles area, due to low humidity and gusty Santa Ana winds.
KTLA’s John A. Moreno, Anthony Kurzweil and Melissa Pamer contributed to this article.
Correction: An earlier version of this article stated the suspects had been charged with recklessly setting a fire; in fact, they were booked on suspicion of recklessly setting a fire.
View Colby Fire in a larger map