Fire Crews Battling Blazes in Azusa and Duarte

June 20, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

Amid soaring temperatures and bone-dry conditions, a pair of fast-moving brush fires tore through vegetation today in the Angeles National Forest and the foothills above Duarte and Azusa, exploding across more than 3,500 acres and prompting evacuations of select neighborhoods.

The initial fire, dubbed the Reservoir Fire, broke out shortly after 11 a.m. off Highway 39 near the Morris Reservoir dam north of Azusa, according to Sherry Rollman of the U.S. Forest Service. That fire grew to more than 100 acres within an hour, then spiked to 1,500 acres by 5:30 p.m.

About 320 firefighters from the U.S. Forest Service and the Los Angeles County Fire Department were battling the blaze, but there was no containment as of late afternoon.

“The fire is burning in very, very steep terrain with very heavy vegetation,” according to Angeles National Forest Fire Chief Robert Garcia.

The fire was sparked by a vehicle running off the highway. The California Highway Patrol received report at 10:57 a.m. of a fatal car crash along Highway 39 near the reservoir where the fire broke out, said CHP Officer Alex Rubio.

“There was a collision there, a vehicle went over the side (of the road),” Rubio said. The car was on fire when officers responded, he said. No information about the victim was available, and the crash remained under investigation, Rubio said.

About 90 minutes after the Reservoir Fire began, a second blaze was reported near Opal Canyon and Brookridge roads near the Duarte/Azusa border, about four miles southwest of the Reservoir Fire.

That blaze, dubbed the Fish Fire, quickly roared into the foothills and initially threatened some homes along Brookridge Road, prompting evacuations.

Los Angeles County Fire Department Deputy Chief John Tripp said, however, the blaze “immediately started burning away from those homes toward the forest.”

“That was extremely fortunate for us,” Tripp said.

He added, however, that fire crews remained staged in structure-protection mode in case a shift in winds pushes the fire back toward homes.

Tripp also called on residents in nearby areas such as Bradbury, Monrovia and Glendora to prepare to evacuate, even though they were not immediately believed to be in danger.

“There are a lot of open flanks of the fire that tonight, if we get (winds) we could have more evacuations,” Tripp said, noting that as of late afternoon, the flames were still moving away from homes.

The Fish Fire consumed 100 acres in less than an hour and burned rapidly uphill, according Capt. Keith Mora of the Los Angeles County Fire Department.

By late afternoon, the flames had roared across more than 2,000 acres, also with no containment.

The two fires appeared to be burning toward each other, spurring fears that they would merge.

As of 3:30 p.m., Mora said the two fires were separated by a canyon and had not merged into one.

More than 200 county firefighters were on the scene battling the blaze in temperatures of more than 100 degrees. In addition to protecting homes, crews also worked to prevent the flames from damaging power lines running along hilltops on the fire’s western flank.

According to the National Weather Service, the temperature in Duarte was 109 degrees at 5 p.m., with humidity of only 10 percent.

Mora said preliminary reports indicate the Fish Fire might have started from a spot fire originating from the Reservoir Fire.

At least three water-dropping helicopters were being used in the firefight, along with a fixed-wing aircraft dropping fire retardant.

Evacuation orders were issued in Azusa for the Mountain Cove neighborhood, the Fish Canyon Equestrian Center and Rainbow Ranch area. Voluntary evacuations were in effect for the Mirador and Crystal Canyon areas.

In Duarte, mandatory evacuation orders were issued for about 180 residents in 71 homes on Brookridge Road, with voluntary evacuations in effect for residents north of Fish Canyon Road from Greenbank Avenue to Encanto Parkway. The Red Cross established an evacuation center at the Duarte Community Center, 1600 Huntington Drive.

Residents were encouraged to take large animals to the Hansen Dam Recreation Area, and about 40 horses were being housed there by late afternoon.

Campgrounds and other areas were evacuated in the Angeles National Forest south of the Crystal Lake area.

According to the county Department of Public Works, about 600 homes total were evacuated due to the fires.

Highway 39 was blocked in the Angeles National Forest due to the Reservoir Fire. Glendora Mountain Road and Glendora Ridge Road were also closed.

Smoke from both fires billowed into the air, creating a plume visible for miles. The South Coast Air Quality Management District issued a smoke advisory because of the blazes, urging residents in smoke-affected areas to avoid strenuous outdoor activity.

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