Firefighters Save “Hundreds, If Not Thousands, of Homes” in Colby Fire

At least five homes have been destroyed in the 1,700-acre blaze that may have been sparked by an out-of-control campfire

Thousands of homes were evacuated Thursday as a 1,700-acre blaze raged in a foothill community south of Southern California's Angeles National Forest, and residents joined firefighters in the battle to subdue the flames.

Updated Article: Homes Threatened During Day 2

Embers blown by 30-mph wind gusts into a Glendora neighborhood – located about 30 miles northeast of downtown Los Angeles – set palm trees ablaze like matchsticks and sparked several small spot fires.

Colby Fire: Evacuation Information | Photos | Crews Gain Upper Hand on Flames

Mandatory evacuations were ordered, and later lifted, for the area south of the fire and east to Azusa. Aerial video showed residents, some carrying pets, running to vehicles and leaving the neighborhood through thick smoke that could be seen throughout Southern California.

Glendora resident Monte Chambers was around the last time these foothills burned in 1968. Chambers' family members and firefighters used the water from his swimming pool to defend his property from the fire.

"They saved the garage really. Back there with their hoses, two huge hoses sucking (the water from the pool)," Chambers said.

Reported at about 6 a.m., the Colby Fire quickly grew to 1,700 acres and sent thick smoke that could be seen throughout the Los Angeles region. Three men were arrested in connection with an out-of-control campfire that may have sparked the massive blaze.

Wes Purkiss and his family evacuated early Thursday. He saw thick, black smoke coming from near his home above Sierra Madre Avenue.

PM Forecast: More Dry Heat Expected

"I can't see my house, but there's some black smoke rising from my house or (the) house across the street," said Purkiss, who has resided in the house for 30 years. "There's nobody up there now."

The fire was estimated at 30 acres at about 6 a.m. before growing to 125 acres by 7:45 a.m. At 9 a.m., fire officials estimated the acreage at 200 before the fire exploded to 1,700 at 10 a.m.

"It was growing pretty rapidly," said Jim Tomaselli, U.S. Forest Service. "The fire was initially inaccessible to our engines. It wasn't up against a road."

Two firefighters and a civilian have been hurt during the firefight, according to fire officials.

One resident told NBC4 the wind-blown embers were "torching everything they touch," including parts of houses and the dry fronds of palm trees.

"As the fire moved down the hill, it set the patio cover on fire, but the neighbors got out there with hoses and put that out," said resident Lois Sparking. "There's unburned ground above it, so apparently that was from embers."

The fire burned amid thick, dry brush during a stretch of hot, dry and windy weather in Southern California. By Thursday afternoon, calm winds appeared to push the fire away from residential areas and into the forest.

As of Thursday night, five homes had been destroyed and 17 structures had been damaged, officials said.

"A lot of structures around my home, gone," Glendora resident Francesca WInkle said.  "A  bedroom (in my home) was on fire, but it was quickly put out. My structure is still standing. Thankfully."

Members of Glendora Seventh-Day Adventist Church also fought flames with garden hoses. A palm tree on the property burned, but no structural damage was reported.

The blaze broke out after the driest year on record in California and during what could be the driest January in the state. Investigators believe an out-of-control campfire may have sparked it.

Three men were arrested in connection with the fire and are being held on $500,000 bail each. They were identified as Clifford Henry, 20, of Glendora; Jonathan Jarrell, 23, of Irwindale; and Steven Aguirre, 21, whose most recent residence is listed as Los Angeles.

Red Flag fire weather warnings are in effect through Friday. The warnings include increased staffing levels for fire agencies and pre-deployment of firefighting resources in the warning area.

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