Community reeling after Calimesa fire obliterates mobile home park, killing woman

A helicopter drops water on the Villa Calimesa Mobile Home Park in Riverside County.
A helicopter drops water on the Villa Calimesa Mobile Home Park in Riverside County, where the Sandalwood fire has destroyed dozens of homes and buildings.
(Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times)

Residents were reeling Friday after a fast-moving fire started by burning trash quickly swept through their mobile home park, killing an elderly woman who could not escape the flames.

Family members of Lois Arvickson confirmed the 89-year-old died in the fire. Don Turner, Arvickson’s son, and his wife, Kimberly, spent Thursday night at an evacuation center, desperate to hear news of his mother, who lived alone at the Villa Calimesa Mobile Home Park. She was on the phone with her son when the blaze, dubbed the Sandalwood fire, reached the park.

Kimberly Turner said neighbors reported seeing Arvickson get in her car to leave, but they don’t know what happened next. The Turners saw TV news coverage that showed Arvickson’s home destroyed by fire and the car still in the driveway.


On Friday, officials said remains were found inside one of the mobile homes, and two other people who live inside the park have not been located. Fire officials said they were working with arson investigators and a homicide unit to determine whether criminal charges would be filed in the death.

Authorities think the fire was caused by a dump truck driver who hastily offloaded burning trash Thursday on the side of a highway, Riverside County Fire Department spokeswoman April Newman said.

By early afternoon, the fire had grown to more than 820 acres and was 10% contained. The blaze has destroyed 76 homes and buildings and damaged 14 others.

More than 500 homes have been evacuated since the fire ignited.

“We’re being challenged with weather and wind,” Riverside County Fire Chief Todd Hopkins said Friday afternoon. “And we’re competing with resources right now due to all the other fire activity going on in Southern California.”

Mandatory evacuations remain in place for the Sandalwood fire in Calimesa, which had grown to 823 acres and was 10% contained as of 7:30 a.m. Friday.

In addition to the massive Saddleridge fire in the San Fernando Valley, two other fires continued to burn overnight in Riverside County. The Wolf fire, at Wolfskill Truck Road near Silver Creek Drive, grew to 75 acres and was 25% contained, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection. The Reche fire, which started in the 9000 block of Reche Canyon Road in Moreno Valley, remained at a steady 350 acres with 40% containment.

Evacuations continue in areas near the Sandalwood and Wolf fires, while orders have been lifted for the Reche fire, authorities said.

In an effort to minimize the fire danger, Southern California Edison had warned that more than 173,000 customers might lose power. Calimesa was on that list but still had power at the time the Sandalwood fire started.

Three fires were burning in Riverside County.
Three fires were burning in Riverside County, including the deadly Sandalwood fire.
(Los Angeles Times)

The perfect storm of heat, wind and dry weather will probably continue to drive fires blazing in Southern California, forecasters said.

Although winds were expected to die down Saturday, conditions will still be extremely dry. A fire warning for Los Angeles and Ventura counties — including where the Saddleridge fire is burning — has been extended from Friday to Saturday evening, according to the National Weather Service. A fire warning in the Riverside County valleys is in effect through Friday evening.

Times staff writer Joseph Serna contributed to this report.