Officials closed a section of the Pomona Freeway between the San Gabriel River Freeway and 7th Street in Hacienda Heights because of the blaze, and traffic was virtually gridlocked on surface streets in the area, sheriff's deputies said.
Two "strike teams" of five engine companies each responded to the original alarm at 1:43 p.m., officials said.
Five more engine companies and five water-dropping helicopters were dispatched to the scene at 3 p.m. after the winds picked up, firefighters said.
By nightfall, firefighters from 10 departments--some from as far away as Orange County--the U.S. Forest Service, were battling the flames with the focus on saving homes.
As winds blew flames away from Blue Sky Road, county Fire Capt. Mark Morgan said he was not sure the area was out of danger.
"We're just trying to make sure the fire doesn't get to the houses," he said.
Scurried to Safety
Just as two dozen firefighters reached the top of a ridge behind Blue Sky Road, a burst of flame ignited the brush, forcing them to scurry back to the canyon below, Morgan said. When the fire did not spread and it appeared safe, they returned to the ridge to cut breaks.
Just as they crested the ridge a second time, "the fire just came around us and made a run on us," said firefighter Steve King. "We had to get out of there fast."
Raleigh Ornelas spent the afternoon helping firefighters, using a 3,500-gallon water truck he owns.
He said he arrived home on Orange Grove Drive at 1:30 p.m. and went to the fire station and volunteered. Fire officials sent him to Turnbull Canyon Road where he sprayed brush that caught fire.
"You couldn't see nothing from both sides of the road," said Ornelas, 42, adding that he helped neighbors spray their roofs.
"It's my neighborhood," he said. "I just want to help somebody."
The evacuees--whose homes were in the vicinity of Turnbull Canyon Road and Blue Sky Road, Descending Drive, Edgeridge Drive, Skyline Drive and Las Tunas Drive--were sent to nearby Los Altos High School, 15325 E. Los Robles Ave., St. John Vianney School at 1345 S. Turnbull Canyon Road and Wilson High School at 16455 E. Wedgeworth Drive, county fire spokesman Joe Silva said.
"The Red Cross is here and has set up evacuation centers," Joyce Craig, assistant superintendent of the Los Altos School District, said.
Residents, she said, "are kind of checking in and checking out. It's like a message center right now. I don't think there are too many people there. They are leaving messages for each other--saying, 'I'm OK' or 'I have gone to wherever.' "
Craig said the Red Cross was "really rallying their volunteers. . . . They have their file system all organized. They're taking messages, and people are coming in."
She said the residents sent down by the deputies seem to "be very much in control."
'Concern on Their Faces'
"They are concerned, and you can see that concern on their faces. But right now they're handling it," Craig said.
As firefighters focused attention on the Puente Hills, about 10 acres were burned in a blaze near the Griffith Park Observatory, Los Angeles fire officials said.
The fire started about 3:30 p.m. and was extinguished within an hour. One firefighter suffered minor injuries battling the blaze, whose cause is under investigation, officials said.
No structures were threatened.
Times staff writers Edward J. Boyer, Stephen Braun, John Kendall, John H. Lee and Craig Quintana contributed to this story. EVACUATION CENTER
Evacuees try to learn the fate of homes and relatives. Page 30