Smoke Warning Issued in Connection with Ranch 2 Fire, Homeless Man Charged


AZUSA (CNS) - Smoke from the Ranch 2 Fire burning in Azusa has prompted the South Coast Air Quality Management District to issue a smoke warning today for parts of eastern Los Angeles County.

The fire has grown to 4,300 acres burned and was 19% contained, according to the U.S. Forest Service.

Crews had success Wednesday and kept the fire from burning additional acres, reinforcing the northern and eastern flanks. Officials said they were growing more confident each day that the lower edges of the fire near communities has grown cold.

Firing operations were conducted to remove small fingers of unburned fuel near Pine Mountain, and were completed overnight without complications.

Some 531 firefighters were assigned to the blaze, including 19 engines, 13 hand crews, five helicopters, four fixed-wing aircraft, seven dozers and five water tenders.

The crews were working toward two major goals Wednesday: reinforcing the northern edge of the fireline along Rincon Red Box Trail, and completing a firebreak along the northwestern shoulder division between Fern Canyon and Cold Springs Canyon, to tie together the two western edges of the fire.

No structures have been damaged, and no injuries reported.

All earlier evacuations orders have been lifted, but the following road closures remain in effect:

-- San Gabriel Canyon Road/Highway 39: closed at Northbound Hwy 39 at Sierra Madre Avenue (southbound Highway 39 is closed at East Fork Road);

-- Glendora Mountain Road: closed from Big Dalton to East Fork;

-- Glendora Ridge Road: closed from Glendora Mountain Road to Mt. Baldy Road; and

-- Santa Anita Canyon Road: closed from Arno Drive to Chantry Flats Road.

The Angeles National Forest changed its Forest Fire Danger Level from very high to extreme and moved into full fire-restriction mode, including prohibiting camp fires in developed sites. Cooking stoves, lanterns and similar devices that use propane, white gas or similar fuels are prohibited.

The fire was reported about 2:45 p.m. a week ago today near North San Gabriel Canyon Road and North Ranch Road, according to the Azusa Police Department and Los Angeles County Fire Department, which called in a second-alarm response.

The homeless man who allegedly set the blaze was charged Tuesday with two felony arson counts. Osmin Palencia, who lives in a tent near the Mountain Cove community, allegedly started the blaze during an argument Thursday afternoon, according to prosecutors.

The 36-year-old defendant is set to be arraigned Sept. 11 at the West Covina courthouse and could face up to 23 years in state prison if convicted of one count each of arson during a state of emergency and arson of a structure or forest, according to the Los Angeles County District Attorney's Office.

Palencia -- who allegedly has a prior conviction from 2015 for dissuading a witness -- surrendered to authorities on Sunday and has remained behind bars since then.

A witness who lives in a riverbed near Mountain Cove said an argument between two homeless men sparked the fire, which came dangerously close to homes.

“There were two gentlemen in the back (of a homeless encampment) fighting and they were arguing over a bike and one guy said he'd burn the other guy out, and things got escalated to where the fire started,'' evacuee Jimmy Pockets told NBC4. “Ran over to try to put it out, but it just took off so quick.''

Gov. Gavin Newsom declared a statewide emergency Tuesday to help ensure resources to combat multiple fires burning across the state.

Photo: Getty Images


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