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January 17, 2014

Campfire embers spark wildfire in hills near LA

GLENDORA, Calif. — Campfire embers fanned by gusty winds blew up Thursday into a fast-moving wildfire that forced nearly 2,000 people from their homes in the dangerously dry foothills of the San Gabriel Mountains and threatened some densely populated suburbs of Los Angeles.

The blaze draped smoke across the LA basin all the way to the coast and rained ash on Glendora.

“We’re underneath a giant cloud of smoke,” said Jonathan Lambert, general manager of Classic Coffee. “It’s throwing quite the eerie shadow.”

Three men in their 20s were arrested on suspicion of recklessly starting the blaze by tossing paper into a campfire in the Angeles National Forest, just north of Glendora. The forest was under “very high” fire danger restrictions, which bar campfires anywhere except in fire rings in designated campgrounds.

There are no designated campgrounds where the fire began, U.S. Forest Service spokeswoman L’Tanga Watson said.

By late afternoon, the flames had charred at least two-and-a-half square miles of dry brush in a wilderness area and destroyed two homes. At least 10 renters were left homeless when the fire destroyed two guest units on the historic grounds of a retreat that once was the summer estate of the Singer sewing machine family. Statues of Jesus and Mary stood unharmed near the blackened ruins.

“It’s really a miracle that our chapel, our main house is safe,” owner Jeania Parayno said.

The mountains rise thousands of feet above dense subdivisions crammed up against the scenic foothills. Large, expensive homes stand atop brush-choked canyons that offer sweeping views of the suburbs east of Los Angeles.

Whipped by Santa Ana winds, the fire quickly spread into neighborhoods where residents were awakened before dawn and ordered to leave.

Jennifer Riedel in Azusa was getting her children, ages 5 and 7, ready to evacuate.

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