Smoke from the Monrovia fire was visible from the 210 Freeway — which… (Barbara Davidson, Los Angeles…)
A brush fire forced the evacuation of about 200 homes in Monrovia on Saturday as firefighters worked to keep flames from spreading into the San Gabriel Mountains.
The wildfire had charred 170 acres of brush and grass on the edge of residential areas in northwest Monrovia, sending up clouds of smoke visible across a wide area of the Southland.
By Saturday night its growth had slowed, although fire officials were on the watch for downwinds that can develop in the area. The blaze was 10% contained.
Authorities issued a mandatory evacuation order for several neighborhoods, including the Alta Vista, Heather Heights, Hidden Valley, Magnolia, Melrose, Mesa Circle, Patricia Way and Sky Way areas.
An overnight emergency shelter was opened at the Monrovia Community Center at 119 Palm Ave. As of Saturday evening about 10 residents had gone there, city spokeswoman Jennifer McLain said.
Firefighters from an array of local, state and federal agencies fought the blaze, which began late Saturday morning with a spark from a tool in the backyard of a home near Crescent Drive and Madison Avenue. Helicopters dropped water on the flames, hand crews and bulldozers dug fire lines and engine crews guarded homes.
On Saturday afternoon, black smoke billowed into the sky and was visible from the 210 Freeway a few miles to the south -- causing traffic to back up -- and from the Santa Anita Park racetrack. The fire was burning in a rugged, steep area that was difficult to access.
Crews used 65 fire engines, half a dozen water-dropping helicopters, an air tanker and two bulldozers to keep the fire from burning onto the chaparral-covered slopes of the nearby Angeles National Forest.
An exceptionally dry winter has left Southern California wild lands unusually parched for this time of year, raising worries that a bad fire season lies ahead.
Two other fires broke out Saturday in Los Angeles County, one in the San Fernando Valley and one in Santa Clarita. Both were quickly contained. But the 4-acre grass fire next to the 405 Freeway shut down all southbound lanes near Victory Boulevard for about an hour during the afternoon.
Firefighters say the parched conditions feel more like what they typically face in June or July. The California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, which handles fire protection for about a third of the state, said it has dealt with 150 more blazes so far this year than it had by the same date in 2012.
Cal Fire announced that it was deploying fire crews early this year in some areas, including the Inland Empire, because of what it described as "extreme" dry conditions.