According to the latest information, what is becoming another of Southern California’s most damaging fires - the Colby Fire, which broke out on Thursday morning Jan. 16th, just above Glendora - has now burned over 1,909 acres and as of yesterday at 4pm was still only 61% contained. So far the blaze has destroyed five homes and damaging 17 other structures, but most of the 2,000 residents that had received evacuation orders are as of today able to return home.
The powerful Santa Ana winds, coupled with California's driest recorded year in 2013, are making it more difficult for the 700 firefighters currently deployed to keep the blaze under control, but they expect full containment is estimated to occur around midnight on Wednesday, Jan. 22. The police have also arrested and charged three people with recklessly starting a fire.
The National Forest Service released the following statement:
As of 4 p.m. on Saturday, Jan. 18, firefighters assigned to the Colby Incident in the Glendora Mountain / Azusa Canyon area have made significant progress mitigating the threat to the Mountain Cove community. Mandatory evacuation orders in this area have been lifted for residents only. Though the fire threat has been significantly reduced Mountain Cove evacuees should drive slowly and be alert to rocks that have fallen on the roadway. Highway 39 North of the Mountain Cove community will remain closed until Unified Commanders feel that it is safe to pass.
While I was following the breaking news and progression of the fire, I had chance to speak with a colleague of mine, Kim Flum (Owner of Craft Communications), who lives in the area and watched the whole drama unfold in her own backyard. The dramatic photos she sent, taken by her mother-in-law Patricia Kralik, illustrated the severity of the blaze and the prompt action of the fire-fighting crews who saved her home. In an email she sent me, this is what Kim had to say:
“We watched the fire advance from east to west and then down from the top of the ridge to our property line.
It was terrifying. We though were going to lose everything.
We were told to leave several times by the police for the mandatory evacuation, but I could not stand the thought of leaving my house.”
As the fires burned, Kim along with her husband and his parents all manning garden hoses, did the best they could to wet down the roofs and soak any dry brush around the house. They all stood guard on alert, watching for any sparks that fell down toward the house so they could try to put out and potential fire threat.
Kim’s email to me continued on to say, “The Sherriff came up to ask us who our next of kin would be in case were fell victim to the fire. I saw so many birds and rabbits and a fox running out of the brush to try to escape.”
Just when it seemed like all was lost for Kim and her family, she spotted water-dropping helicopters appear over the area and they started dousing the rapidly advancing flames. Following quickly behind, several fire trucks came up the road behind Kim’s property and their crews began manually clearing a firebreak with chainsaws behind their house.
“They saved us. They saved our house. We are so grateful!”
By the time the fire was under control in that area, Kim and her family were suffering from heat stroke, exhaustion and headaches from smoke inhalation. Kim’s final words to me were, “There's no way we can thank the firefighters enough for saving our home!”
Swift to respond, Southern California Incident Team 3, with Mike Wakoski as the incident commander, was quick to respond and residents like Kim Flum are thankful to this unified effort under the command of the the USDA Forest Service, Los Angeles County Fire Department, Los Angeles County Sheriff, and Azusa Police Department for saving her home and working hard to contain what is yet another reminder that we are in one of the worst draughts in California we’ve not seen in years. Fire hazards are high and the carelessness of campers can lead to severe destruction with huge impact on the environment, as well as the lives of citizens.