Two sprawling wildfires tore through at least 3,500 acres in the San Gabriel Mountains on Monday, and only a canyon prevented the blazes from merging into one massive inferno, fire officials said. The two brush fires broke out in Azusa and Duarte amid a blistering heat wave and forced evacuations of hundreds of homes and at least 750 residents. The first blaze, called the Reservoir fire, was reported about 11 a.m. at Highway 39 in the San Gabriel Mountains, said Andrew Mitchell, spokesman for the Angeles National Forest. The fire was apparently ignited by a fatal car crash. A vehicle that went over the side of the road and plunged to a bottom of a canyon near Morris Reservoir, said John Tripp, Deputy Chief of the Los Angeles County Fire Department. About 300 U.S. Forest Service crew members were tackling the 1,500-acre blaze near Azusa as water-dropping helicopters aided in the firefight. Azusa police issued mandatory evacuation orders for residents who live in the communities of Rainbow Ranch and Mountain Cove, the latter a gated neighborhood with about 320 homes. U.S. Forest officials said Camp Williams, structures near Mountain Road and San Gabriel Canyon were also evacuated. More than an hour later, a second fire, dubbed the Fish fire, erupted near Brookridge Road and Opal Canyon Road in Duarte, said Capt. Keith Mora, spokesman for the Los Angeles County Fire Department. "It's moving fast," he said. By 5:30 p.m., the blaze had spread to about 2,000 acres, according to the L.A. County Fire Department. Firefighters were working under "extremely dry conditions, over 100 degree temperatures" and 12 to 15 mph gusts as they battled the Fish fire, Mora said. Flames were moving rapidly uphill and near power lines. Fire spokesman Joey Napoli said a canyon was the only thing separating the two fires. So far, there is no containment of the fires.
"The biggest challenge is this is extremely rugged terrain and it's not very accessible, so we're really having to rely on our aircraft," Tripp said, noting that fire crews are also surveying which ridges will be accessible for bulldozers and hand crews. Evacuation orders went out for nearly 700 homes in Duarte, including homes near Encanto Parkway and Brookridge Road. Mandatory evacuations were also issued for residents above Markwood Street between Westvale Road and Tocino Drive, and above Conata Street between Tocino Drive and Mountain Crest Road. The Red Cross, together with L.A. County Fire Department and city of Duarte, had opened an evacuation center at a recreation facility in the 1600 block of Huntington Drive in Duarte. By midafternoon, few had arrived at the evacuation center. The fires triggered a smoke advisory from the South Coast Air Quality Management District. Smoke from the fires could be seen from Kenneth Hahn State Recreation Area in Baldwin Hills. A red flag warning has been issued for Southern California through Tuesday morning. Temperatures are expected to hover in the triple digits in Los Angeles and remain in the 90s near the Sherpa fire in Santa Barbara County, authorities said. That blaze is the largest active fire in California, according to state and federal data. In San Diego County, a wildfire fueled by dry brush and sweltering temperatures has scorched 7,500 acres just north of the U.S.-Mexico border and prompted mandatory evacuations for the entire east county community of Potrero. The fire was about 5% contained, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.