A homeless man suspected of intentionally starting the Ranch 2 Fire in Azusa was being sought by authorities Saturday.
Osmin Palencia, 36, is believed to have a connection to the Monrovia area and possible a woman known as “Madonna Ortiz.” Azusa police say he is violent and has multiple active arrest warrants. They posted a photo of Palencia on their social media account, and urged anyone who sees him to use caution and contact their nearest law enforcement agency.
Palencia’s last known residence is an encampment in the Azusa Canyon Riverbed, police said.
A witness who lives in a riverbed near Mountain Cove told NBC4 an argument between two homeless men sparked the fire.
“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 the station. “Ran over to try to put it out but it just took off so quick.”
Meanwhile, firefighters reported minimal fire activity overnight, and improved fire containment line along the south edge of the perimeter near the Mountain Cove community. They said Saturday’s focus will be on the northern perimeter to prevent further spread into the Angeles National Forest.
The fire had burned 1,400 acres and was 3% contained as of late Saturday morning.
The Ranch 2 Fire was reported about 2:45 p.m. Thursday 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.
Mandatory evacuation orders were issued at 3:30 p.m. Thursday for Mountain Cove residents living south of Highwood Court, while those north of Highwood Court were asked to voluntarily evacuate.
Shortly afterward, mandatory evacuation orders were extended to include Mountain Cove residents living north and west of Turning Leaf and Boulder Ridge.
Police announced at around 11 p.m. Thursday that the evacuation order for Mountain Cove residents was lifted, but emergency vehicles would remain in the area for at least 72 hours to monitor the fire.
Mountain Cove residents were allowed to go home Friday morning because the fire was no longer burning toward homes, according to Daniela Zepeda of the U.S. Forest Service.
“Firefighters did a really good job securing the perimeter of the fire closer to homes,” Zepeda said.
The number of personnel committed to fighting the blaze had reached 143 Saturday.
North San Gabriel Road was closed in both directions between W Sierra Madre Avenue and E East Fork Road.
The Angeles National Forest changed its Forest Fire Danger Level from very high to extreme, and moved into full fire restrictions including prohibiting campfires in developed sites. Cooking stoves, lanterns, and similar devices that use propane, white gas or similar fuels were prohibited.
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