Firefighters worked overnight as they continued to improve lines of cleared vegetation around a brush fire near Interstate 10 in Calimesa that has killed two people and charred 1,011 acres, Riverside County Fire Department officials said Monday.
The so-called Sandalwood Fire, which has destroyed 76 mobile homes, was 94 percent contained as of Monday morning.
Mandatory evacuation orders remained in place for residents of the Villa Calimesa Mobile Home Park, but were lifted at 1 p.m. Saturday for the area north of the mobile home park. Authorities said residents returning home should use County Line Road as 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,” Riverside County Sheriff Chad Bianco said, adding that deputies were providing security around evacuated properties to prevent looting.
The brush fire ravaged a mobile home park near Interstate 10 after the driver of a trash truck dumped his burning load, igniting nearby dry grass, at 1:58 p.m. Thursday at Sandalwood Drive and Seventh Street, near the Interstate 10 exit ramp.
“This was a very rapidly moving fire,” Riverside County Fire Department Division Chief Todd Hopkins said Friday in Beaumont.
“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.”
Lois Arvickson, 89, was the first person found dead as a result of the fire. She lived in the mobile home park, her son told reporters, and was on the phone with him, preparing to get in her car and leave when the line suddenly cut out.
The body of a second victim was found Friday evening during a search through a burned mobile home. The coroner’s office was working to identify that victim, whose age and gender were not immediately known, according to Riverside County sheriff’s officials.
County Supervisor Jeff Hewitt, who previously served as the city’s mayor, called Friday “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 issued an emergency proclamation, which the Board of Supervisors is slated to ratify during a special session Thursday morning to enable the county to apply for immediate state and federal aid.
Along with the county and Calimesa fire departments, Cal Fire-San Bernardino County and the Yucaipa fire departments were working to encircle the blaze under a unified command.
The temporary shelter set up by the American Red Cross for displaced residents at Mesa Grande Academy closed Sunday, but caseworkers will continue to work with those affected by the fire as they begin the recovery process, the nonprofit said.
Fire victims who would like to speak to a caseworker can call 951-571-8681.
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 www.redcross.org, or 800-733-2767.