Firefighter Jeff Newby sprays water as he battles the Colby Fire on Friday, Jan. 17, 2014, near Azusa, Calif. Firefighters were chasing flare-ups Friday morning in a damaging wildfire that was largely tamed but kept thousands of people from their homes in the foothill suburbs northeast of Los Angeles.(AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)
GLENDORA, Calif. (AP) – Hundreds of residents who fled a wildfire in the suburbs of Los Angeles returned home Saturday as red-flag warnings of extremely dangerous fire conditions expired, but officials say that bone-dry winter conditions remain a threat for the region.
The last wave of evacuees in the Azusa neighborhood known as Mountain Cove, about 25 miles northeast of downtown Los Angeles, were allowed to return home Saturday evening.
"It's exhilarating ... very thankful (to the firefighters) for saving our community," resident Alexandra Ramos told KNBC-TV.
Crews focused on securing fire lines around the roughly 3-square-mile blaze and looked ahead to rehabilitating the burn area to prevent erosion and possible mudslides, said U.S. Forest Service spokesman Robert Brady. Containment increased from 30 percent earlier in the day to 61 percent.
"It's starting to look fairly good," Brady said. "We're still in very dry conditions, so I would remind people to be careful out there."
The fire erupted early Thursday in the Angeles National Forest when Santa Ana winds hit a campfire that authorities said was recklessly set by three men. Gusts quickly spread flames from the San Gabriel Mountains into Glendora and Azusa, where some 3,700 people had to evacuate at the fire's peak.
Five homes were destroyed and 17 other houses, garages and other structures were damaged, according to early assessments.
Red-flag warnings of critical danger due to the combination of winds, extremely low humidity and extraordinarily dry vegetation were repeatedly extended during the week. Some warnings for mountain areas expired at 6 p.m. Saturday.
The state is in a period of extended dry weather compounded in Southern California by repeated periods of the regional Santa Anas, dry and powerful winds that blow from the interior toward the coast, pushing back the normal flow of moist ocean air and raising temperatures to summerlike levels.
The dry conditions statewide led Gov. Jerry Brown to formally declare a drought Friday in order to seek a range of federal assistance.