Northern California

Woman Dies in Calimesa Wildfire Caused by Trash Truck's Fiery Load

Two others are unaccounted for, Riverside County Sheriff's Chad Bianco said.

One woman was killed in an 823-acre Calimesa blaze fueled by high winds that started when burning trash was dumped in to a field of dry grass, officials said Friday. 

At least 76 mobile homes were destroyed in the blaze that was 10% contained by Friday morning, Cal Fire officials said. 

Another nine homes at the Villa Calimesa Mobile Home Park sustained moderate damage, and five sustained minimal damage in the blaze which was reported at 1:58 p.m. Thursday at Sandalwood Drive and Seventh Street, near the Interstate 10 exit ramp.

Two people were unaccounted for, Riverside County Sheriff's Chad Bianco said.

"This was a very rapidly moving fire,'' Riverside County Fire Department Division Chief Todd Hopkins said during a late Friday morning news briefing in Beaumont. "It started when a trash truck caught fire, and the burning trash was jettisoned out the back of the vehicle.''

Flames from the burning trash ignited dry grass and spread into the mobile home park, he said.

Riverside County fire officials said authorities responded to "numerous" medical emergencies at the park. Several residents were transported to hospitals but there were no details on their conditions, Riverside County Fire Department Capt. Fernando Herrera said.

An 89-year-old resident, Lois Arvickson, died in the fire. Her son told reporters that his mother, who lived alone, was on the phone with him, preparing to leave in her car, when the line went dead.

Bianco said the Central Homicide Unit was handling the death investigation. He stopped short of calling the two people that were unaccounted for missing, and they weren't identified.

"We're trying to determine whether there's criminal culpability,'' Bianco said. "We're investigating to see if we need any type of criminal charges, and we are still in the process of identifying everybody who should have been or lived in the mobile home park.''

The continued firefight was even more taxing as resources were allocated to other blazes burning in Southern California, including the 4,700-acre Saddleridge blaze, that also claimed one life after a resident suffered cardiac arrest. 

The park has 110 home sites and was built in 1958, according to its website. TV helicopter video showed a large portion of the structures were total losses. About 160 students sheltered in place as smoke enveloped nearby Mesa View Middle School before buses arrived and evacuated them to another school outside the fire zone.

Maryanne Fiske was part of a crowd in a restaurant parking lot awaiting word on whether their relatives at Villa Calimesa were safe.

"There was another lady over here who was really upset, who could see her mobile home on fire," Fiske said.

Rosie Castellon told NBCLA that she and her dog, Monster, barely made it out.

"I don't know if it's still standing," she said of her home. "I just know the whole park is on fire. And over half of the mobiles are gone."

The blaze, dubbed the Sandalwood Fire, was one of several that broke out amid high winds and dry conditions that prompted California utilities to preemptively cut power to more than 2 million people in high-danger areas to guard against power lines sparking fires.

The area that includes the mobile home park still had its power when the fire occurred. To the west of Calimesa, firefighters contained a blaze that damaged two homes near Fontana.

It was not immediately clear whether the power outage included the location where the fire broke out.

The Calimesa blaze was 10% contained by Friday morning. No further updates have been made.

It was one of several fires on Thursday.

Because the fire started after a trash truck driver dumped burning embers into a field, it wasn't immediately clear if anyone would face criminal charges. 

To report anyone missing or uncounted for, please contact the sheriff's dispatch nonemergency line at 951-776-1099, option #5.

A blaze that broke just north of Moreno Valley broke out amid high winds, threatening homes and prompting evacuations. Another fire erupted in LA County Thursday evening, growing to more than 4,000 acres by morning. 

County Supervisor Jeff Hewitt, who previously served as the city's mayor, called it "a very, very difficult day for Riverside County and Calimesa."

"This fire has caused extensive damage to the community, and we have lost life," he said. "My heart goes out to the community, and our thoughts are especially with the grieving relatives.''

Hewitt said the county Emergency Management Department has issued an emergency proclamation, which the Board of Supervisors is slated to ratify during a special session next Thursday morning to enable the county to apply for immediate state and federal aid.

Mandatory evacuations were in effect south of Seventh Street and east of County Line Road, as well as for nearby Mesa View Middle School, whose students were taken by bus to Calimesa Elementary School in Yucaipa on Thursday.

Bianco said more than 500 homes remain under evacuation, and Seventh Street was shut down between Sandalwood Drive and County Line Road.

"That road closure will be in place for quite some time because of the investigation,'' the sheriff said, adding that deputies were providing security around evacuated properties to prevent looting. 

Calimesa Fire Department Battalion Chief Jeff Rarey said a temporary shelter for displaced residents was established at Mesa Grande Academy, 975 Fremont St. According to the American Red Cross, volunteers were providing round- the-clock assistance to evacuees at the shelter.

"Those affected by the fire do not need to be staying overnight at the shelter to take advantage of Red Cross services," the nonprofit agency said.

Large and small animals were being accepted at the San Jacinto Valley Animal Campus at 581 S. Grand Ave. Anyone needing help evacuating pets was urged to call 951-358-7387.

A half dozen Cal Fire air tankers and several water-dropping helicopters were summoned Thursday afternoon to make runs on the fire, which expanded into San Bernardino County by 3 p.m.

The air support was back in action Friday morning. According to the South Mesa Water Co., which serves the City of Calimesa, as well as parts of lower San Bernardino County, the agency's main reservoir is 90 percent full.

"We are pleased to have sufficient supplies helping firefighters to prevent the fire from spreading in our service territory,'' SMWC Board President George Jorritsma said.

The sheriff advised anyone who has information about the fire, or who is from the area and may have other concerns, to call 951-776-1099 and use option No. 5.

The Red Cross requested donations to its Disaster Relief fund to help those impacted. Donations can be made at, or 800-733-2767.

Evacuation information:

  • A care and reception center for evacuees was established at the Calimesa Senior Center, 908 Park Ave.
  • Road Closure: Seventh Street between Mustang and County line Road.
  • Mesa View Middle School evacuated to Calimesa Elementary School for reunification.
Evacuees can get free rides via Lyft if affected by the Reche and Sandalwood fires in Riverside County, and the Saddleridge Fire in Los Angeles County. Get two free rides using the code SWRRELIEF19. See more details here.
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