Southern California

San Diego Woman Fears Worst for Mother Caught in Path of Sandalwood Fire

"We just want to know. We have to know," her daughter said.

What to Know

  • The Sandalwood Fire began Thursday afternoon after a trash truck dumped a load on fire into brush, Cal Fire said.
  • More than 70 mobile homes burned.
  • The family of Lois Arvickson said she hasn't contacted them, and they haven't found her at a shelter.

A San Diego woman was waiting anxiously Friday behind evacuation lines set for the 800-plus-acre fire burning in Calimesa to hear from officials what she can already feel in her heart: That her 89-year-old mother perished alone in the flames.

Judy Dorius and her sister-in-law Kim Turner say they've called every shelter and hospital, and have reached out to every possible family member and friend in an effort to find their mother, Lois Arvickson.

“I’m sure she went up in the fire. How could she not? She would have contacted us. She’s not in any of the shelters, hospitals, anything. So, we know, but we have to have answers," Dorius said from behind police tape near the Villa Calimesa Mobile Home Park in Riverside County.

Dorius and Turner said Arvickson loved her independence as much as she loved her family.

"She was strong and independent. She’d come visit for a couple of days and then she’d be ready to go back home and do her thing," Turner said.

The sisters said Arvickson also drove herself, shopped on her own, and didn't have any mobility issues.

“So we feel like if there was hope she was somewhere that somebody would have called us by now," Dorius said.

Dorius's brother may have been the last person to speak with Arvickson.

He told Dorius he spoke to their mother on the phone Thursday. Arvickson told him the fire was coming. Then the phone went dead.

“She was probably so terrified and that breaks my heart," Dorius said.

Riverside County Sheriff's Investigators have the grim task of searching the mobile home park for any human remains. One person had already been confirmed dead early Friday. 

There are two people unaccounted for, according to authorities, and Arvickson's family believes she falls into that category.

Dorius and Turner said all signs point toward tragedy, but they drove as close to the mobile home park as they could get to wait for official confirmation.

"We just want to know. We have to know," Dorius said.

Arvickson recently celebrated the birth of a great-great-grandchild with a five-generation family picture, Dorius said. She was looking forward to celebrating 90 years with her offspring in June.

“She loved family and she loved life and she wanted to be around for a long time," Turner said.

Cal Fire officials said a trash truck caught on fire Thursday at around 2 p.m. and the driver dumped the burning debris on the side of Seventh Street. The embers ignited the fast-moving Sandalwood Fire, which was fueled by strong Santa Ana winds.

Authorities said in a news conference that it wasn't clear whether the truck driver or anyone would face criminal charges in the blaze until they could complete an investigation.

By late Friday, the blaze had swept through more than 800 acres, and damaged 90 structures, while 76 were destroyed. 

Though one person had died, details of that death were not released. 

As the Sandalwood Fire reached 10% containment, other wildfires continued to burn in the Southern California region.

The Saddleridge Fire in the Porter Ranch area consumed some 5,700 acres, forcing hundreds of thousands to flee. A man went into cardiac arrest near that blaze, and died, but authorities did not release details on exactly what happened. 

“She was probably so terrified and that breaks my heart.”

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