As containment of the Colby Fire reached 98 percent Tuesday, three men were facing federal charges of allegedly illegally setting a campfire that turned into the 1,952-acre wildfire in the San Gabriel Mountains.
Federal prosecutors filed a criminal complaint Tuesday afternoon against three men in their 20s who had been taken into the custody shortly after the fire broke out Jan. 16.
The defendants were expected to appear in federal court on Wednesday.
Meanwhile, about 300 personnel remained on the ground on the sixth day of the fight against the 1,952-acre fire in the Angeles National Forest, according to an update on the interagency fire website InciWeb.
Highway 39 — also called San Gabriel Canyon Road — was reopened, but Caltrans said on Twitter that falling rock had forced crews to shut down the mountain roadway through 7 p.m. Wednesday at the entrance to the national forest, above Azusa. The city of Azusa warned residents of the Mountain Cove community to be cautious about falling rock.
The city Glendora planned to hold a meeting from 3 to 5 p.m. Thursday for residents affected by the fire.
Due to the fire, air quality in the San Gabriel Valley remained unhealthy for sensitive individuals on Tuesday, according to the South Coast Air Quality Management District.
Thousands of homes were evacuated in Glendora and neighboring Azusa after the fire broke out just before 6 a.m. Jan. 16.
Five homes and 10 outbuildings were destroyed, while seven homes and one outbuilding were damaged, according to InciWeb.
Three men who were taken into custody near the site of the blaze admitted to investigators that they had started a campfire that spread when wind blew burning paper into the brush in the hills above Glendora, according to court documents.
The suspects were charged with unlawfully setting timber afire, a felony offense that carries a possible five-year prison term, according to a spokesman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Central District of California. The men allegedly built the fire outside of a developed recreation site, in violation of U.S. Forest Service regulations.
The suspects were identified as Clifford Eugene Henry Jr., 22, of Glendora, and Jonathan Carl Jarrell, 23, and Steven Aguirre, 21, both described as transients.
A U.S. Forest Service fire investigator determined the fire started near the point where the three men had built a “fire ring” within the Angeles National Forest, which is federal land, according to an affidavit in support of the criminal complaint.
The threesome admitted they had hiked into the mountains from the Colby Trail at the end of the Lorraine Avenue on the evening of Jan. 15, and then found a spot to camp and set up a small fire. Before going to sleep, they covered the fire with dirt to put it out, according to the affidavit.
Then, before dawn on Jan. 16, the three awoke because it was cold and started a second fire, putting notebook paper on the flames that was then blown into a nearby bush. The men said they tried to stomp out the burning bush but were unable to do so, according to the affidavit.
They then ran from the blaze and were apprehended by police and U.S Forest Service officers who thought they appeared suspicious.