Nearly 2,000 residents were evacuated and at least two homes burned in a wildfire that started when three people tossed paper into a campfire in the dangerously dry and windy foothills of Southern California's San Gabriel Mountains.

Embers from the fire fanned by the Santa Ana winds quickly spread into neighbourhoods below, where residents were awakened in the pre-dawn darkness and ordered to leave.

The three suspects, all men in their 20s, were arrested on charges of recklessly starting the fire that spread smoke across the Los Angeles basin and cast an eerie cloud all the way to the coast.

More than 700 firefighters were on the scene, along with 70 engines and a fleet of helicopters and air tankers dropping water and retardant.

burning house
A home is destroyed by the Colby Fire in Glendora, CaliforniaReuters
tanker plane
A Super Scooper firefighting plane makes a water drop on the Colby FireReuters
media fire
Homes in Glendora are engulfed in flames, as members of the media report on the Colby FireReuters
house destroyed
The fast-moving Colby Fire burns homes in the hills of GlendoraReuters
mattress burning
Residents belongings go up in flames as a house is destroyed in GlendoraReuters
fire suspects
Jonathan Carl Jarrell, Steven Robert Aguirre and Clifford Eugene Henry Jr. are seen in their Glendora Police Department booking photos. The three men were arrested on suspicion of recklessly starting the fast-moving Colby wildfireReuters
The Colby Fire is seen in a satellite image provided by NASAReuters/NASA
man with hose
A local resident uses a garden hose to protect his home in Glendora from a fast-moving wildfireReuters
Firefighters tackle a blaze in the Angeles National Forest north of GlendoraReuters
helicopter water
A helicopter drops water on the Colby Fire in GlendoraReuters
cloud smoke
A cloud of smoke is seen from the Foothill Freeway approaching GlendoraReuters
california fires houses
The Colby fire burns in the hills above homes in Glendora, CaliforniaReuters