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Two dead in Calimesa fire

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Fire in Live Oak Canyon

The Sandalwood Fire burns near Live Oak Canyon shot Thursday afternoon from just above Florida Street in Redlands.

The Riverside County Fire Department declared Monday morning that the Sandalwood Fire is 100 percent contained. It burned 1,011 acres, destroyed 74 structures and damaged 16 others.

As of 8 a.m. Monday, evacuation orders had been lifted except at the Villa Calimesa Mobile Home Park, where investigators discovered the remains of a second person on Friday, Oct. 11, Cal Fire Riverside announced on Monday, Oct. 14.

“Firefighters will continue to improve, reinforce and secure control lines around the fire,” said CalFire Riverside in a tweet.

The identification of the second victim still has not been released by authorities.  On Friday, authorities confirmed the death of Lois Arvikson, 89, who lived in the 1100 block of Calimesa Lane inside the mobile home park.  

According to the Riverside County coroner’s office, Arvikson suffered injuries around 2:46 p.m. on Thursday, Oct. 10, and died around 6:15 p.m. at her house.

Resident reactions

A scorched metal cross and a wrench, that’s all Curtis Boaz could recover from his burned home at the Villa Calimesa Mobile Home Park on Monday, Oct. 14.  

“Everything is gone, including one cat,” said Boaz choking back tears.

“Boaz was one of a handful of residents who were allowed access to the mobile park before Riverside County Public Health Officer Cameron Kaiser declared it unsafe for residents.

“The items burned and destroyed in the fire incident may yield toxic, carcinogenic or otherwise dangerous chemicals or chemical byproducts that may cause immediate and serious health risks if handled, inhaled, or inadvertently ingested,” said the Department of Public Health.

Victoria Mitchell, who has lived in the complex for two years, was anxious to get in to assess the possible damage.

Mitchell told the Redlands Community News that she was asleep when the fire broke out.  

“The heavy smoke woke me up and when I ran outside all I could see was black smoke.  A tree was burning across my house, I was disoriented, I panicked but fortunately I got out,” said Mitchell.

“The night shift nurse who works in the Palm Desert area was fortunate. Others weren’t so lucky.

At least two people died in the fire, Lois Arvikson, 89, and a second person whose name has not been released.

“Lisa Suddarth, Arvikson’s niece, said she was the “most wonderful woman as far as being positive,” and that she lived life the fullest, always “positive, never negative.

“She always took care of herself and always took care of the family history.  I used to hate my broad shoulders but after she told me that we were the first white people in the Morongo Valley that helped the natives dig a well in the desert, I became proud. I know who I am thanks to my aunt,” said Suddarth.

“Elia Gonzales, owner of a property inside the complex, said her manufactured house was totally gone. Gonzales said the property was not insured because insurance companies refused to do so as the property was in a high-risk area.

“Now I don’t know what to do.

“They don’t even let me in. Fortunately, there was nobody at the house when that happened,” said Gonzales.

“Mitchell’s house also wasn’t insured.  

“Meanwhile, authorities urged residents to be careful when they return to their homes because many dangers could remain.

Authorities urged residents to look for utility poles weakened by the fire, to be careful with debris near or around the house, and to check if security systems and phones are working.

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Cause of Sandalwood Fire

“A truck driver from CR&R Environmental Services dumped a load on fire in the vicinity of the Villa Calimesa Mobile Home Park around 2 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 10.

A video taken by an 8-year-old passenger and distributed over social sites shows the load of the trash truck on fire. Several videos taken by people from afar also show the trash truck in the area.

In a matter of minutes, the fire had spread through the mobile home park, destroying at least 74 structures.

According to the National Waste and Recycling Association, protocol dictates that trash on fire needs to be dumped to save the truck.

The following step is to call authorities. In this instance, the driver ignored the strong winds and recommendations from a driver to dump the load somewhere else.

Riverside County Sheriff Chad Bianco said during a press conference on Friday, Oct. 11, that the driver was cooperating with authorities, which were also analyzing the possibility of pressing charges.

Riverside County Supervisor Jeff Hewitt said during the press conference, held at Noble Creek Park, in Beaumont, that protocol might change.

Checking on gas

As of Tuesday morning, Seventh Street between Villa Calimesa Road and Sandalwood Drive remained closed, according to the Riverside County Fire Department.

Gas service is interrupted for the South Mesa Mobile Home Park.

For questions regarding gas restoration, call (800) 427-2200. SoCal Gas is checking each home.

“If you smell gas, call 9-1-1,” says the website. “Residents are urged to use caution returning home.

For more information, contact (951) 940-6985 or go to Evacuation Center: Mesa Grande Academy, 975 Fremont Street, Calimesa, CA.

Saddleridge Fire

“While Riverside County authorities battled three fires, the Sandalwood, Reche and Wolf fires, the Los Angeles County Fire Department fought the Saddleridge Fire that started around 9 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 10, near State Route 210 at Yarnell Street in Los Angeles.

“As of Monday, Oct. 14, the Saddleridge Fire had grown to 7,965 acres and was 43 percent contained. The fire had destroyed 17 structures and damaged 58, the Los Angeles County Fire Department said.

“The Saddleridge Fire, which could have started from a SoCal Edison transmission tower malfunction, may have caused the death of a man who suffered a cardiac arrest.

“According to the California Forestry and Fire Protection, nine wildfires were recorded in the state as of Thursday, Oct. 10, including the Olivas and Wendy fires in Ventura County, the Biter Fire in the San Luis Obispo County and the Plains Fire in the Shasta County.

A less dangerous year

According to CalFire, there have been 4,755 fires in California between Jan. 1 and Oct. 13, compared to 5,011 in the same period last year. The big difference is in the acres burned: 41,204 acres so far this year compared to 631,733 acres in the same period last year.

In the past five years, the average number of fires has been 4,992 with 372,066 acres burned in CalFire area of responsibility.

The cost of fighting wildfires in California has increased from $11.9 million in fiscal year 1979-80 to $947.4 million in the last fiscal year. Expenses are estimated at $676.8 million for the current fiscal year, which is higher than any year in the past 40 years except the 2017-18 fiscal year.

Resources used­

According to the Riverside Fire Department, 17 engine companies, 10 fire crews and a total of 247 firefighters battled the Sandalwood Fire.

They used two air tankers, one helicopter and one water tender, according to reports prepared by Jody Hagemann.

The American Red Cross assisted in all three fires in the region.

Cooperating agencies included American Medical Response, CAL FIRE/Riverside, CAL FIRE/San Bernardino, City of Calimesa, Riverside County Fire Department, Riverside County Fire Emergency Management Department, Riverside County Sheriff’s Office, San Bernardino County Fire Department, Southern California Edison, Southern California Gas Co., Calimesa Fire Department and the city of Redlands.

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