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Fires break out in Diamond Bar, threatening homes; 2 people detained [Updated]

November 3, 2009 |  1:44 pm

Brushfire
Firemap200 Multiple fires broke out along the 60 Freeway in Diamond Bar today, threatening homes, causing traffic backups and prompting a massive response from firefighters.

More than 250 firefighters and numerous aircraft battled what appeared to be eight fires that were reported around 11:45 a.m. in the hills south of the 60 Freeway between the 57 and 71 freeways. No homes were  lost, but the flames came close to several upscale hillside subdivisions.

Students at Diamond Ranch High School took shelter in the gymnasium and prepared to be evacuated if needed, but Pomona Unified School District officials said the campus was not threatened by the fire.

The water drops significantly reduced the spread of the fires, which appeared to be dying down as of about 1:30 p.m.

The California Highway Patrol was dispatched to the reports of at least five spot fires. The first came at 11:45 this morning, reporting a “small fire on the right shoulder of the eastbound 60 Freeway at the Northbound 57 Freeway.”

The brush fire consumed at least 50 acres, said Maria Antuna, a spokeswoman with Los Angeles County Fire Department.

There are 23 fire engines on the scene and four helicopters are dropping water over the blaze, Antuna said.

Lanes on the 60 Freeway were closed so firefighters could battle the fires.

[Updated at 2 p.m. : Los Angeles County sheriff’s officials said they have detained the driver and passenger of a pickup truck that they believe is responsible for the fires.

A small fire started in the bed of the pickup truck and the two people in the cab didn't realize it, said Sgt. Diane Hecht. Burning debris flew out of the bed at multiple points, starting fires in the brush. Sheriff’s and fire investigators are continuing to investigate, Hecht said.]

[Updated at 3:17 p.m.: Fire officials said the blaze is now 60% contained. Retha Quince was driving home about 11:40 a.m. when she saw smoke rising from several different fires along the 60 Freeway in Diamond Bar.

"It looked like every 500 yards someone had taken a Molotov cocktail and thrown it off the freeway," she said. Quince, 40, immediately headed to nearby Diamond Ranch High School, where her 15-year-old daughter, Raven, is a sophomore. But Quince and many other parents were not allowed past a roadblock set up by authorities in front of the school's only entrance.

Dozens of nervous parents stood on a smoky freeway overpass on Phillips Ranch Road talking on cellphones and to each other.

For mother Laura Perez, 38, the inability to see her 15-year-old son Cristian was frustrating. He had called her from his cellphone earlier. "He sounded afraid," she said. "I wish I could be there for him." Some students, like freshman Jaclyn Martinez, managed to be picked up by parents who navigated around the roadblock.

Jaclyn, 15, said she had been eating lunch outside when people began running to see the smoke. "Some kids were panicking," she said. "I held my sweatshirt over my mouth the whole time." Students were taken to the football field until the smoke appeared to encroach upon the area and were then moved to the indoor gym, Jaclyn said.]

More photos: Diamond Bar fires

Your Scene: Submit photos from the fire area

--Tony Barboza and Raja Abdulrahim in Los Angeles, Corina Knoll in Diamond Bar

Photo: A fire fighting aircraft makes a  water drop near Diamond Ranch High School after a brush fire erupted along the Pomona / Diamond Bar border. Credit: Francine Orr / Los Angeles Times

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