Firefighters made progress Friday against a wildfire — apparently sparked when paper was tossed into a campfire — that tore through two and a half square miles of brush and forced thousands of people from their homes in the foothills outside Los Angeles.
Fire officials told reporters that the fire was 30 percent contained, an improvement from completely uncontained the day before. People were allowed back into their homes in the city of Glendora and in some neighborhoods that had been evacuated in the neighboring city of Azusa.
Crews expressed confidence and said they were focused on putting out “hot spots” near homes and buildings.
“Things are progressing nicely. We’re not really having a lot of issues today,” said Mike Wakoski, an incident commander. “It’s looking pretty good around the structures, and we’re kind of turning our head to the north to contain the fire itself today.”
The fire has destroyed five homes and damaged 17 structures, including homes, garages and other buildings, and it has cast an eerie haze over Los Angeles to the Pacific Ocean. Battling the blaze on Friday were almost 1,200 firefighters, 150 engines, nine helicopters and four air tankers.
By Thursday afternoon, firefighters had stopped the fire’s rapid advance and the risk to neighboring communities. More than 3,700 people had been ordered to evacuate; by Friday, that figure was down to about 1,000.
Wind still posed a threat: The National Weather Service said red-flag warnings, signifying extreme fire danger, would stay in effect because of low humidity and the possibility that Santa Ana winds would blow through the foothills and canyons.
Police said the fire apparently started before dawn Thursday when three men tossed papers into a campfire in the Angeles National Forest, northeast of Los Angeles, and a breeze kicked up.
Three men were being held: Clifford Eugene Henry Jr., 22, of Glendora; Jonathan Carl Jarrell, 23, of Irwindale; and Steven Robert Aguirre, 21, of Los Angeles. Bail was set at $20,000 for each, police said.
Officials now fear California is headed into a replay of the big drought that lasted from the late 1980s to the early 1990s. Gov. Jerry Brown on Friday declared a drought emergency and asked residents to cut their water use by 20 percent. He did not rule out mandatory conservation measures later.
And California isn't the only state suffering: Federal agriculture officials have designated parts of 10 other parched states disaster zones due to dry weather.
In just the past two weeks, the extreme drought in California jumped from 27 percent of the state to 62 percent, said meteorologist Chris Dolce of The Weather Channel, citing the U.S. Drought Monitor. That is by far the highest percentage since the drought monitor began in 2000.
The good news is that California still has no exceptional drought – the worst category.