Riverside County supervisors approved a local emergency proclamation Thursday connected to last week's deadly blaze in Calimesa, as well as three other wind-driven brush fires, enabling the county and victims to obtain assistance from state and federal sources.
The Board of Supervisors convened a special session at the County Administrative Center in downtown Riverside to ratify by unanimous vote an emergency declaration issued Friday by Emergency Management Department Director Bruce Barton.
"Many residents of western Riverside County have been impacted by the Sandalwood, Reche Canyon, Eagle and Wolf fire incidents," according to a statement attached to the board resolution. "The ongoing fire and aftermath will necessitate resources from both state and local entities. The Proclamation of Local Emergency begins the process to receive resources for assistance to first responders, residents and others impacted by the fires."
On Friday, Gov. Gavin Newsom declared a State of Emergency in response to the fires, making social and other assistance available to all affected entities.
The Sandalwood Fire in Calimesa claimed two lives and destroyed 90 structures, most of them mobile homes, according to the EMD, fire and law enforcement officials.
The 1,000-acre blaze erupted about 2 p.m. Oct. 11 in the area of Sandalwood Drive and Seventh Street, where a trash truck dumped a burning load, the flames of which were propelled by 40-50 mph Santa Ana winds into the Villa Calimesa Mobile Home Park.
Before an engine from the Calimesa Fire Department and crews from the Riverside County Fire Department could deploy to defend the RV park, the fire tore through it, spreading into open terrain and reaching the San Bernardino County line within an hour. The flames were fully contained Monday afternoon.
Lois Arvickson, 89, was the first person found dead as a result of the fire. Her son told reporters that she had been on the phone with him and was preparing to get into her car when she was apparently caught in the flame front.
Another body was located in the charred remains of a residence, but that individual's identity has not been confirmed.
Supervisor Jeff Hewitt, the former mayor of Calimesa, noted last week that the fire "caused extensive damage to the community" and recovery will not be easy.
The Red Cross was staffing a temporary shelter for victims, but the facility closed earlier this week. However, a Local Assistance Center is still active daily at the Calimesa Senior Center, 908 Park Ave., where anyone impacted by the Sandalwood blaze can apply for help from county, state and federal sources.
The county lifted an order Thursday barring former residents from entering the mobile home park, giving them restricted access to gather whatever valuables they might be able to recover. However, the few residences that escaped fire damage will not be open for habitation because of concerns about asbestos and toxic chemical exposure for the time being, according to the county Department of Public Health.
Officials requested that residents limit their time in the park to short periods for retrieval purposes.
The sheriff's and fire departments are conducting a joint investigation into the blaze and its circumstances, and although most of the on-site investigation is completed, the process is ongoing, officials said.
In addition to the Calimesa wildfire, a 350-acre blaze prompted evacuations and road closures in the Reche Canyon area, north of Moreno Valley, last Thursday. The fire, which remains under investigation, was contained Saturday. The 75-acre "Wolf Fire" briefly threatened properties four miles south of Banning, but that blaze was contained within a day. It was started by target shooters on private land along Wolfskill Truck Road, according to the fire department. The "Eagle Fire" consumed nine acres before it was stopped in the area of Eagle Canyon and Cajalco roads southeast of Corona. The cause of that fire has not been determined.