Story Summary

Colby Fire Destroys Homes, Burns Angeles National Forest

Hundreds of firefighters battled a wildfire that broke out Jan. 16, 2014, in the San Gabriel Mountains north of Glendora, scorching nearly 2,000 acres, burning homes, and forcing evacuations amid a regional fire-weather warning. Three men in their 20s were charged with illegally setting a campfire that spread.

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Amidst a downpour Friday, a trail of white smoke climbing from the foothills in Azusa was an ominous reminder of the Colby Fire earlier this year.

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A trail of white smoke was seen after the rain put out part of the still smoldering Colby Fire Friday. (Credit: KTLA)

The smoke began to rise after a large boulder rolled down the hillside, likely due to the heavy showers.

Fire officials said the Colby Fire, which began in January, was still smoldering under the bolder.

When the boulder moved, the rain put out the fire and caused the smoke.

About 2,000 acres were burned in the Angeles National Forest as a result of the Colby Fire.

Three men appeared in federal court Wednesday to face charges of illegally setting a campfire that spread and burned nearly 2,000 acres in the Angeles National Forest.

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Steven Aguirre, Clifford Eugene Henry Jr. and Jonathan Carl Jarrell are shown in booking photos. (Credit: Glendora Police Department)

A criminal complaint was filed Tuesday against the three men in their 20s who were arrested after running from the fire, which began just before 6 a.m. Jan. 16. They admitted they had camped in the mountains above Glendora and set a small fire that burned out of control, according to court documents.

The suspects have been identified as Clifford Eugene Henry Jr., 22, of Glendora, and Jonathan Carl Jarrell, 24, and Steven Aguirre, 21, both described as transients.

They appeared in U.S. District Court in downtown Los Angeles on Wednesday afternoon. Aguirre was ordered held without bail until his next hearing, in part because of possible substance abuse issues.

Prosecutors described an extensive criminal history for Henry, citing convictions for sexual battery and solicitation of lewd conduct. He was ordered detained. Both Aguirre and Henry were due back in court Feb. 5.

Jarrell’s attorney requested a psychiatric evaluation for his client, and the judge continued a bail hearing for that defendant until Friday.

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Clifford Eugene Henry Jr., Steven Aguirre and Jonathan Carl Jarrell, shown in a courtroom artist’s sketch, appeared in federal court on Jan. 22, 2014. (Credit: Bill Robles)

The blaze, dubbed the Crosby Fire, burned 1,952 acres, destroying 5 homes and 10 outbuildings, and damaging eight more structures. Three people were injured, including two firefighters.

Thousands of homes were evacuated during a firefight that was just beginning to wrap up nearly a week after it began. The fire was 98 percent contained as of Tuesday evening.

“It’s clear the conduct here is not only criminal, but it also shows you that illegal wildfires in particular lead such  wake of destruction,”  Assistant U.S. Attorney Amanda Bettinelli told reporters.

According to court documents, the three men told investigators that the blaze began when wind blew burning paper from their campfire into the brush.

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Flames from the Colby Fire rose above Azusa on the evening of Jan. 16, 2014. (Credit: KTLA)

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.

A U.S. Forest Service fire investigator determined the fire started near the point where the three men had built a “fire ring” on federal land, according to an affidavit in support of the criminal complaint.

The threesome admitted they had hiked into the mountains on the evening of Jan. 15, found a spot to camp and set up a small fire that they put out before going to sleep, according to the affidavit.

Then, before dawn the next day, they 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 flames but could not, according to the affidavit.

They ran from the fire and were separately apprehended by Glendora police and U.S Forest Service officers who thought they appeared suspicious.

“These sorts of actions … the defendants described themselves as ‘stupid’ … really put in harm’s way so many individuals,” Bettinelli said.

KTLA’s Christina Pascucci contributed to this article.

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.

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Steven Aguirre, Clifford Eugene Henry Jr. and Jonathan Carl Jarrell are shown in booking photos. (Credit: Glendora Police Department)

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.

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The Colby Fire burned out of control near Glendora on Thursday, Jan. 16, 2014. (Credit: KTLA)

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.

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Highway 39 at the entrance to the Angeles National Forest above Azusa. (Credit: U.S. Forest Service)

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.

Firefighters were working in steep, mountainous terrain on Monday, seeking to fully contain a wildfire that had destroyed homes and prompted the evacuation of thousands of residences after breaking out in the foothills above Glendora.

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More than 800 fire personnel were working on the Colby Fire Monday. Here, members of a U.S. Forest Service clear brush on a hillside above Highway 39 on Jan. 17, 2014, in Azusa. (Credit: Getty Images)

On the fifth day of the firefight, the Colby Fire was estimated at 1,952 acres and 84 percent contained, according to a unified command spokesman.

Crews were deep in the Angeles National Forest, focusing on the northeast and northwest edges of the fire on Monday, said Marc Peebles, spokesman for Southern California Incident Management Team 3.

“They’re making good progress, it’s just that it’s real slow,” Peebles said.

More than 800 firefighters and other personnel remained working on the Colby Fire Monday, he said, “doing a lot of heavy mop up in some pretty steep, nasty areas.”

The blaze broke out just before 6 a.m. Jan. 16 in the Glendora foothills and spread rapidly westward in dry brush amid unseasonably high temperatures, a red flag warning and a statewide drought.

Three men in their 20s had been taken into custody on suspicion of recklessly setting a fire. They said their campfire got out of control, according to Glendora’s police chief, who reported that the threesome would face federal charges.

Five homes and 10 outbuildings were destroyed, while seven homes and one outbuilding were damaged, according to the interagency website InciWeb.

The last remaining evacuation orders were lifted on Saturday evening for residents in the Mountain Cove area of Azusa. Highway 39 — also called San Gabriel Canyon Road — remained closed Monday.

Full containment was expected 6 p.m. Wednesday, Peebles said.

Firefighters on Sunday continued to make progress against the Colby Fire, officials said.

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The Colby Fire burns in the Angeles National Forest. (Credit: KTLA)

The blaze – which broke out near the intersection of Glendora Mountain Road and Colby Motorway in the Angeles National Forest – had burned 1,906 acres and was 78 percent contained as of early Sunday morning, according to a tweet from the U.S. Forest Service.

Crews planned to continue patrolling the area and checking for any hot spots, said Marc Peebles with the Southern California Interagency Incident Management Team.

Sunday’s high temperature in the area was expected to reach 87 degrees, and winds were slated to be calmer than the previous day, according to a statement issued by the Forest Service.

The fire growth potential was medium, fuels remained extremely dry, and humidity levels were anticipated in the single digits, officials said.

The final mandatory evacuation order was lifted for Mountain Cove residents Saturday evening, authorities said.

“Thank you to all the firefighters and police who helped organize and keep these fires under control,” said homeowner Baldwin Lopez. “The helicopters and the planes were amazing. The stuff that they did to put these fires down and keep them controlled was simply amazing.”

The fire was expected to be fully contained by Wednesday, according to the Forest Service’s statement.

An illegal campfire apparently ignited the blaze Thursday morning, and fire officials cited drought conditions as contributing to the blaze.

Three men in their 20s were arrested and booked on suspicion of recklessly starting the fire, Glendora police Chief Tim Staab 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 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.

Firefighters battling the Colby Fire near Glendora and Azusa took advantage of cooler temperatures and calmer winds Saturday to make progress against the flames, authorities said.

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The Colby Fire is burning near Glendora (Credit: KTLA)

The fire burning in the Angeles National Forest has consumed 1,863 acres and remained 30 percent contained Saturday, according to a statement issued by the U.S. Forest Service.

“Firefighters made excellent progress throughout the night taking advantage of the lower temperatures and favorable wind conditions to successfully perform firing operations and reinforce containment lines where possible while working in steep rocky terrain,” the Forest Service said.

The final mandatory evacuation orders were lifted for Mountain Cove residents at 6 p.m., according to the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department.

San Gabriel Canyon Road, which is above Mountain Cove, would remain closed, authorities said.

The blaze began Thursday near the intersection of Glendora Mountain Road and Colby Motorway, and left two firefighters and one resident with minor injuries.

An illegal campfire apparently ignited the flames, and fire officials cited drought conditions as contributing to the blaze.

Three men in their 20s were arrested and booked on suspicion of recklessly starting the fire, Glendora police Chief Tim Staab 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.

For a second day on Friday, firefighters battled a wildfire burning in the San Gabriel Mountains that had grown to 1,863 acres after destroying homes, injuring three people and forcing thousands of residents to evacuate.

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Firefighters continued to work on the Colby Fire as smoke rose above Azusa on Jan. 17, 2014. (Credit: KTLA)

Roughly 300 houses in the Mountain Cove community of Azusa remained under a mandatory evacuation order, though some residents were allowed to return to their homes Friday afternoon, Azusa police Lt. Paul Dennis said.

Residents of Mountain Cove were ordered to remain evacuated until at least Saturday morning when the fire threat would be re-evaluated, police tweeted late Friday.

Fire activity continued around Highway 39, also known as San Gabriel Canyon Road, Dennis said, making it unsafe for residents to return.

“It’s been a trying 36 hours that we’ve endured this,” he said.

The blaze was burning in the Angeles National Forest, about 25 miles northeast of downtown Los Angeles, spreading smoky air across much of Southern California. Two firefighters and one resident had sustained minor injuries on Thursday.

Fire officials said they hoped to make progress on the fire as “summer-like” temperatures dropped Friday night and early Saturday morning. The blaze remained 30 percent contained, authorities said at a 5 p.m. news conference.

“It’s steep, it’s rugged, it’s nasty out there. It’s going to take some time,” said Marc Peebles, a spokesman for the unified command team in charge of the firefight.

Vegetation that was burning hadn’t seen fire since the 1960s, officials said.

Colby Fire: Crews Continue to Fight Hot Sports

The fire had burned dramatically overnight. (Credit: KTLA)

Firefighters made progress on the rugged north side of the fire, where aircraft had dropped retardant and water on Friday, according to Mike Wakoski with Incident Management Team 3.

“Things are looking good on the fire. It’s not moving like it sure did yesterday,” Wakoski said.

The firefight was expected to last four to five days, Peebles said.

The Colby Fire broke out in the foothills above Glendora just before 6 a.m. Thursday and quickly spread, burning five homes and damaging 17 other structures, according to the Los Angeles County Fire Department.

Thousands of Glendora residents were subject to a mandatory evacuation order that was lifted Thursday evening, when the fire was spreading west toward neighboring Azusa.

Azusa residents who live north of Sierra Madre Avenue between Yucca Ridge Road and Ranch Road — including the Mirador and Crystal Canyon communities — were allowed back to their homes at 4 p.m. Friday, authorities said.

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The Mountain Cove community of Azusa remained under an evacuation order Friday. (Credit: KTLA)

Mountain Cove remained evacuated because firefighters were still working there, and there was “still concern for the roadway and homes in that area,” a police news release stated.

Only one evacuation center remained open Friday — the American Red Cross center at Glendora High School, 1600 N. Foothill Blvd., Glendora.

Three suspects who were arrested Thursday after allegedly letting their campfire spread out of control will face federal charges, Glendora police Chief Tim Staab said Friday.

The suspects had been 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 being held in lieu of $500,000 bail.

A spokesman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Central District of California said no charges would be filed by the end of the day Friday.

The fire began amid a red flag warning that was in effect for much of the L.A. area due to gusty Santa Ana winds and low humidity. The warning, which was initially set to expire at 6 p.m. Friday, has been extended to 6 p.m. Saturday, according to the National Weather Service.


View Colby Fire in a larger map

KTLA’s Tracy Bloom and Melissa Pamer contributed to this article.
 

Carolyn Costello reports for the KTLA 5 News at 10 on Thursday, Jan. 16, 2014

Steve Kuzj reports for the KTLA 5 News at 10 on Thursday, Jan. 16, 2014.

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