It's 80 degrees-plus on the coast, and the skies would have been as clear as Taylor Swift's eyes after a night of partying on club sodas if it weren't for three guys, police say.
Despite days of warnings by authorities not to start illegal camp fires in the mountains above the greater Los Angeles area for fear of lighting America's most populous county ablaze, this trio of geniuses allegedly did so anyway, cops said.
The suspects were identified as …
Clifford Eugene Henry Jr., 22, of Glendora; Jonathan Carl Jarrell, 23, Irwindale; and Steven Robert Aguirre, 21, a transient from L.A.
Glendora Police Chief Tim Staab told reporters today that the three started the 1,700-acre Colby fire north of his city, sending a plume of brown smoke over the L.A. basin and threatening lives and homes.
The historic Singer Home, the residence of heirs to the Singer sewing machine firm, reportedly burned along with one other house.
Mandatory evacuations were in effect for residents north of Sierra Boulevard along State Route 39, a.k.a. San Gabriel Canyon Road.
The trio started a wee-hours campfire using paper, and a breeze carried some of the embers into the Angeles National Forest, the chief alleged.
The blaze started at 5:52 a.m. in the forest, L.A. County officials said in a statement. Staab said this about the suspects:
Reportedly, they were up, they had set a campfire. They were tossing papers into the campfire and a breeze – reportedly – a breeze had kicked up and set this fire.
The three were cooperative, and one confessed fully, the chief said. The trio was not in a designated camping area, but Staab said it's not unusual to find campers up in those mountains above Glendora.
City and county fire officials have been issuing “red flag” warnings about high fire danger for days as a result of our unusually warm weather and a high pressure system that sends dry, warm winds toward the ocean, ripening dry brush for potential brush fires.
The L.A. County Department of Health today issued a warning stating that fire-related air quality is unhealthy in the San Gabriel Valley as well as in southeast, southwest, and coastal L.A.
[Update at 4:42 p.m.]: A Glendora police official told us that, because the fire affected U.S. Forest Service turf, the three suspects could end up facing federal charges.
This is how cops stated the arrests went down:
At 6:34 am, a Glendora Police Officer detained two subjects running in a flood control wash channel in the 800 block of E. Palm Ave. U.S. Forestry contacted a third subject in the area of Glendora Mountain Road and Colby Trail around 8:37 am. All three subjects were arrested and booked at the Glendora Police Department with the charges of 452(c) PC – Unlawfully causing a fire of a structure or forest land, a felony with a bail of $20,000.
At a 4:30 p.m. news conference authorities said the fire was 30 percent contained. It burned down five homes and damaged 17 others, they said.
Three people were injured, including a resident and two firefighters, officials said. One of the firefighters was struck by a “rolling rock,” one official said.
The Singer Mansion was saved, authorities said.
[Update at 12:18 p.m. Tuesday]: Authorities today put the fire's acreage at 1,952 and said it was finally about 95 percent contained.
San Gabriel Canyon Road (state route 39) remained closed because as a result of the possibility of falling rocks, the L.A. County Sheriff's Department said. It will probably not reopen until 7 p.m. tomorrow, officials said.
[Update at 11:34 p.m. Tuesday]: The U.S. Attorney's Office in L.A. today announced that the three suspects will each face a federal count of suspicion of “unlawfully setting timber afire.”
If successfully prosecuted the charge comes with five years behind bars, the office says.
According to U.S. Attorney's spokesman Thom Mrozek:
A United States Forest Service fire investigator has determined that the origin of the Colby Fire was at a point near a fire ring built by Henry, Aguirre and Jarrell; the cause of the fire was embers from the campfire that set dry grass adjacent to the campfire ring afire; and both the campfire ring and the origin of the fire are clearly located on federal lands within the Angeles National Forest.