(Photo: Reuters/Gene Blevins)
A destructive wildfire raging above foothill suburbs northeast of Los Angeles for two days has damaged at least 20 structures, including five homes, even as California Gov. Jerry Brown has declared a drought emergency saying it is perhaps the state's worst dry spell in a century.
Firefighters were beginning to tame the fire that was burning near Glendora and Azusa in southern California Friday, but some residents who were forced to evacuate their homes had little relief. About 2,800 residents were allowed to return to their homes Friday only to find smoldering piles of rubble, Reuters reported.
Crews reported progress in containing the blaze as winds remained calm, according to Los Angeles Times.
The fire, which started in a campsite Thursday morning, had blackened 1,863 acres of drought-parched chaparral and damaged five homes and 17 other structures, including houses and garages, as of late Friday.
Some structures "miraculously" escaped harm. Statues of Jesus and Mary stood intact near the blackened ruins in a wilderness area, The Associated Press reported. "It's really a miracle that our chapel, our main house is safe," owner Jeania Parayno was quoted as saying.
The blaze remained about 30 percent contained as of Friday evening even as 1,100 firefighters, aided by about a dozen aircraft, were part of the containment efforts.
"Things are progressing nicely," Mike Wakowski, commander of the multi-agency firefighting force, was quoted as saying. "It's looking pretty good around the structures."
Some warnings remained for mountain areas. "The conditions are still extreme out there," Tom Contreras, supervisor of the Angeles National Forest, was quoted as saying.
Persistent high pressure over the Great Basin resulted in continued critical fire weather conditions Friday across southern California, due to strong winds, low humidity levels and dry fuels, according to weather officials. "These enhanced fire weather conditions will persist through Friday night, with slight improvement forecast into the weekend," the National Weather Service said.
The fire erupted early Thursday in the Angeles National Forest due to a campfire recklessly set by three men. Gusts soon spread flames from the San Gabriel Mountains into the city of Glendora.
Police arrested the suspects, who were identified as Clifford Eugene Henry, 22, of Glendora; Jonathan Carl Jarrell, 23, of Irwindale; and Steven Robert Aguirre, 21, a Los Angeles transient.
The fire erupted at a time when the state is in a historically dry period with some of its reservoirs at their lowest levels in years.
Gov. Brown declared a drought emergency, saying the state is facing "perhaps the worst drought that California has ever seen since records (began) about 100 years ago."
"We can't make it rain, but we can be much better prepared for the terrible consequences that California's drought now threatens, including dramatically less water for our farms and communities and increased fires in both urban and rural areas," Brown said in a statement Friday. "I've declared this emergency and I'm calling all Californians to conserve water in every way possible."
The declaration allows the state to seek federal aid.
There's a need to "wake all Californians to the serious matter of the drought and lack of rain," Brown told reporters, according to CNN. "We are in an unprecedented, very serious situation that people should pause and reflect on how dependent we are on the rain, nature and one other."
Officials says California's mountain ranges have less than one-fourth of the snow they normally have around time of year.
The first two months of a year are normally the wettest months in the state, but it has hardly rained this year thus far. The National Weather Service says little rain is expected in the coming weeks.