TODAY   |  January 17, 2014

Wildfire threatens thousands in Southern Calif.

Hundreds of firefighters are on the frontlines of a dangerous wildfire that started after three people allegedly started an illegal campfire. NBC’s Miguel Almaguer reports.

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>> well, let's get right to our top story this morning, the dangerous wildfire in california that's damaged or destroyed two dozen buildings and forced some 3,700 people to evacuate.

>> this morning, nearly 700 firefighters are working to contain those flames. let's get to miguel almaguer east of los angeles . miguel , good morning to you.

>> reporter: savannah, good morning. fire season here in southern california is year round, but a blaze in the middle of january this size is unusual. crews say they have lost five homes, but crews from all across this region are certainly engaged in this fire fight.

>> reporter: overnight, fueled by wind chewing the bone-dry terrain, the so-called colby fire threatened to again go out of control.

>> water dumped on homes. don't see that often.

>> reporter: the blaze barrelled toward million dollar properties, the inferno moving so quickly, firefighters gave extra hoses to neighbors to join the fight.

>> when it was coming down, it jumped like 50 feet in no time at all. flying down the hill.

>> reporter: with hot embers flying through the sky and trees shooting flames into the air.

>> everyone aware? evacuations in place?

>> reporter: 5,000 scrambled to evacuate. most getting out with just the clothes on their back. the historic mansion owned by the famed sewing company singer was surrounded by flames. the guest home, a complete loss. ron galway barely escaped with his life.

>> it went so quick. it was like, get out.

>> reporter: the damage could have been worse because this area was already under a high fire threat. when the blaze broke out, crews were already scattered all across the region.

>> reporter: this morning, three men are in custody. police say their illegal campfire sparked the blaze. with most evacuation orders lifted --

>> my structure is still standing, thankfully.

>> reporter: -- crews warn the drought-stricken hills remain a tinderbox.

>> reporter: though this fire has charred through nearly 2,000 acres, crews are making progress, the blaze at least 30% contained. the next few hours, though, will certainly be critical. savannah?

>> we know you're watching, miguel almaguer, thank you so much.

>>> take a look at this photo. the fire is so intense, the smoke plume can be seen from space. let's