by Tim Tevault
and Amanda Stutevoss
Editor in Chief
The Williams Fire in the Angeles National Forrest, which started Sunday, hit close to home this week. It had spread over 31,000 acres and was 25 percent contained by press time Thursday. The blaze originally erupted in the East Fork of San Gabriel Canyon, near Glendora, and has so far caused $8.3 million in damages.
The fire spread eastward on Monday as temperatures shot up into the triple digits, reaching the foothills of La Verne and San Dimas, creating an ominous, billowing smoke cloud that towered over the Inland Empire and East San Gabriel Valley.
By Wednesday, La Verne, Claremont and San Dimas had declared a state of emergency. Firefighters don’t expect the fire to be out until sometime next week.
So far more than 70 structures have been damaged; most of them special-use cabins.
Fire fighters from across the nation have aided in fighting the inferno. Over 3,300 fire fighters were on the fire lines Thursday. So far, there have been five minor injuries to fire fighters.
“A lot of counties have sent resources,” said Bruce Quintelier, fire spokesman for the U.S. Forest Service, including the Office of Emergency Services and the Los Angeles County Forest Services.
Several roads and highways in La Verne and San Dimas have been shut down, including Highway 39 above Azusa, San Dimas Canyon Road above Foothill Boulevard and Wheeler Avenue north of Baseline.
Quintelier also said that the forest is shut down to recreation and that it is closed from point to point, meaning that portions of any state highway or county road crossing through the forest are shut down.
The smoke cloud created by the blaze has since dissipated into a thick, gray mass. However, on Monday, the cloud had some residents and visitors to La Verne concerned.
“It looked like an atomic bomb,” said Jim Stark of Glendora. “This is the worst one I’ve seen in Glendora.”
Stark joined other curious onlookers in a parking lot on Foothill Boulevard on Monday afternoon, just one of the many prime viewing spots of the blaze.
“It’s kind of scary,” said Nicole Bembry, manager of Starbucks Coffee in La Verne, who also lives five miles away from her job. “It’s creepy and it’s getting really close.”
Another spot people from around the San Gabriel Valley gathered to watch the fire was on Wheeler Avenue, north of Baseline. Cars of various on-lookers lined the normally dead street until about midnight on Monday. With cameras and binoculars in hand, the public looked ready to capture Mother Nature at its worst.
“It’s like we want to leave but we can’t,” said Debbie Estes of San Dimas, who watched blazing hills burn for about an hour.
However, the people and media that traveled on Wheeler were a concern to some of its residents.
Karen Stroud, a resident of Wheeler Avenue for 15 years, said that the people ignoring the signs that the street was closed off to the public were just creating unneeded traffic and were blocking the emergency vehicles from doing their job.
Stroud and her neighbors set up a viewing spot on the corner of their lawn, and had been watching the blaze all evening. “(A fire) has never spread like this,” she said.
This seemed to be a trend among many of the local residents, as they set up chairs in their driveways and lawns to get a good view of history in the making.
While people living in the foothills were watching the fire from up close, the view from the city streets had people stopping in their tracks.
The sight in La Verne during the day on Monday was of people staring at the smoke cloud in awe of its size and proximity to their city.
Evidence of the fire appeared in the form of thick, gray ash that layered the tops of cars and structures all over the city.
Many local ULV students, faculty and staff have either been evacuated or put on notice that evacuation may be imminent.
Junior Peter Hanson a resident assistant here on campus and is a resident of Glendora. His house sits three miles from the fire lines.
“I was stuck here on duty and I was very nervous,” he said.
“I freaked out when I saw that the whole mountainside was burning, so I got someone to cover my shift and I drove home to make sure everything was okay,” Hanson said.
Journalism Professor George Keeler’s house sits in Live Oak Canyon in Claremont and until 6 p.m. on Wednesday he was on evacuation watch.
“I had six fire trucks parked in my driveway Tuesday night,” Keeler said.
“We were reduced to packing our life’s possessions in boxes,” he said. “I grabbed dumb things like my jacket, my favorite pair of sunglasses and my trumpet.
“I guess you find out what material possessions matter to you,” Keeler said.
Professor of Languages Roswitha Brooks is a resident of Mountain Springs Estates at the top of Wheeler and was evacuated from her home on Monday evening.
“We were given 15 minutes to get out,” she said.
“All I could think were all the memories that are in our house, the abstract memories,” she said.
“We have lived in that house for 26 years. I thought we could rebuild the house, but it would never be the same.”