Fire sparked by burning trash destroys dozens of homes in Riverside County

CALIMESA, Calif. -- More than six dozen homes in a Calimesa mobile home park were destroyed after a garbage truck dumped a burning load that sparked a fire Thursday.

Dubbed the Sandalwood Fire, it broke out just before 2 p.m. and exploded to 500 acres within two hours, according to Cal Fire Riverside, KTLA reports.

By Friday morning, the blaze had grown to over 800 acres, according to Cal Fire Riverside. The flames were 10% contained.

Sky5 was overhead as the blaze reduced several homes to blackened piles of debris.

The fire spread to the Villa Calimesa Mobile Home Park after the trash truck dumped its fiery load along Seventh Street, said Capt. Fernando Herrera with the Riverside County Fire Department. It has the potential to grow to 1,500 acres, Herrera said Thursday afternoon.

Ultimately 74 homes in the community were destroyed, and another 16 were damaged, according to fire officials. The mobile home community's website says it contains enough plots for 110 homes — meaning only about 20 would have escaped unscathed.

The Associated Press reported that one resident, 89-year-old Lois Arvickson, went missing after the fire broke out.

Her son, Don Turner, told AP that neighbors saw his mother get into her car inside the garage as the fire was closing in. Not long after, the blaze had consumed Arvickson's garage, and the neighbors were unsure whether she got out.

"She said she's getting her purse and she's getting out, and the line went dead," Turner said.

Officials told the wire service that they were still trying to determine whether everyone was accounted for.

One Villa Calimesa resident told KTLA she recently struggled to get her home insurance renewed.

“We called around several places that wouldn't insure us," said Lisa, who did not give her last name.

Months earlier, she said, the insurance company dropped coverage for her and other residents in the park due to wildfire risk. She was able to finally get coverage but the same can't be said for other residents, she said.

“Some of the people in there couldn't do it because they doubled and tripled the price," she said. "People couldn't afford the insurance."

More than 100 firefighters worked to put out the growing fire as it posed a threat to the railway and power grid in the area, according to Cal Fire. A number of medical emergencies were reported at the park, authorities said.

Residents have been told to evacuate south of Seventh Street, east of County Line Road, and authorities have shut down an area of Seventh Street between Mustang Way and County Line Road.

Both mandatory and voluntary evacuations were issued in Redlands on Thursday afternoon, but all were lifted Thursday evening after the fire danger to the city was "fully mitigated," Redlands Fire Department officials said via social media. No damage or injured were reported in Redlands.

Calimesa Mayor Bill Davis said a fire burned through the same area 20 years ago. The city has a population of just 8,500 to 9,000 people, Davis said.

A couple who lives in the mobile home park said they were missing one of their dogs.

"He's real small, he's sick. He's got a lot of problems," the woman said of her dog, Tyson, urging for anyone who sees the dark-colored, 10-pound miniature pinscher to reach out. "He's my world."

The brush fire started just 3 miles from Mesa View Middle School, where first responders escorted students left on campus after dismissal to Calimesa Elementary School, according to the Yucaipa-Calimesa Joint Unified School District. Officials said the school was completely evacuated by 4:30 p.m.

The district canceled classes for Friday at Mesa View due to the continuing fire activity.

A care center for evacuees was opened at the Calimesa Senior Center, but relocated Thursday evening to the Mesa Grande Academy, 975 Fremont St. in Calimesa.

Care and reception centers were set up at Canyon Springs High School, 23100 Cougar Canyon Road in Moreno Valley, as well as at Redlands East Valley High School, 3100 E. Colton Ave. in Redlands, according to the Red Cross.

Authorities said large and small animals can be taken to the San Jacinto Valley Animal Campus, located at 581 S. Grand Ave. in San Jacinto. Those who need help evacuating pets can call 951-358-7387.

As the Sandalwood Fire spread, the nearby Reche Fire burned through at least 200 acres and triggered mandatory evacuations in the foothills near Moreno Valley.

Winds were gusting 20 to 30 mph in the area of both fires, coming from the east-northeast direction in "bone dry air," according to the National Weather Service, which tweeted a satellite image showing the two fires near each other.

Calimesa was within the large portion of Southern California that was placed under a red flag warning Thursday.

Amid Santa Ana winds and low humidity, Southern California Edison had warned of possible power shutoffs in the city to reduce the risk of wildfires. But the area ultimately never faced an outage Thursday.

A high of 76 degrees was expected in the afternoon, with southeast winds of 15 mph and gusts of up to 25 mph, according to the National Weather Service. The low at night was expected to be around 53 degrees with lighter winds.

KTLA's Tracy Bloom contributed to this report.

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