1 person killed and dozens of homes destroyed in Imperial County brush fire

Guadalupe and Daniel Altamirano comfort each other as they survey the ashes of their cousin's home in Niland, Calif.
(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

A massive brush fire tore through a town east of the Salton Sea overnight, killing one person and destroying about 40 homes as it burned for hours, officials said Monday.

The blaze started near Highway 111 and 4th Street in Niland and became a three-alarm fire about 7:30 p.m. Sunday, the Imperial County Fire Department said in a Facebook post.

The town was evacuated, and residents were moved to a temporary shelter at Calipatria High School, where the American Red Cross helped place at least 130 people in hotels, the fire department said.

The fire department estimated that about 40 homes had been destroyed by midnight.

Authorities went door to door in the aftermath of the fire, which jumped palm trees in Niland amid high winds. Imperial County said fire officials had recovered one body; no details were provided.


Firefighters were able to stop the fire’s progress by about 2 a.m., and by about 8 a.m., the blaze was contained, the fire department said. Crews were continuing to monitor the scene and put out hot spots.

The cause of the blaze was under investigation.

Niland is an economically depressed town of about 1,000 people in a desolate stretch of a county that regularly registers one of the highest unemployment rates in the United States. Imperial County’s jobless rate stood at 27.8% in May.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.