By Karen Brooks
Jan 17 (Reuters) - Firefighters battling a California wildfire, started by campers in the foothills near Los Angeles, were gaining significant ground on Friday and hoping to return evacuated residents to their homes, officials told Reuters.
"It looks really good," said Los Angeles County Fire Department Inspector Keith Mora, adding that officials felt comfortable about the safety of residents in the area. "Our priority today is to get them back home."
The fire prompted some 3,500 residents in parts of Glendora and neighboring Azusa to vacate 870 homes on the order of authorities. Temporary shelters were set up at an American Legion hall, a community center and a high school.
Some 2,800 residents had been allowed to return by Friday morning, Mora said.
By that time, the fire was 30 percent contained, but officials expect to make significant gains later in the day, Mora said.
In the 1,709 acres blackened by the fire, five homes burned to the ground and 17 other structures were damaged. Three minor injuries were reported, two of them firefighters.
The blaze started when three men were building a campfire in the area and used paper to feed the flames, which were spread by high winds, officials have said.
Bail was set at $500,000 each for the men, who were jailed Thursday in Glendora, California, on charges of recklessly starting the fire.
The three were identified as Clifford Eugene Henry Jr. 22, of Glendora; Jonathan Carl Jarrell, 23, of Irwindale; and Steven Robert Aguirre, 21, of Los Angeles. Police said Aguirre was homeless but that the men were not living at the campsite.
Progress was slowed by a post-midnight flare-up that had most of the 1,100 firefighters concentrating on keeping the flames from jumping a highway near the San Gabriel Canyon, Mora said.
Having accomplished that, firefighters were able to focus Friday on tamping down hot spots and building containment lines around the fire's edge, Mora said.
The fire caused an emergency to be declared for Glendora on Thursday and several schools in the area were closed.
With Southern California suffering through several years of drought, officials had predicted a particularly intense fire season. Red-flag warnings, indicating critical conditions, had been posted for many areas. (Editing by Gunna Dickson)