CALIMESA, Calif. (AP) — Don Turner’s 89-year-old mother was missing Thursday night after a wind-driven wildfire sparked by burning trash swept through a Southern California mobile home park, destroying dozens of residences.
Lois Arvickson called her son from her cellphone to say she was evacuating shortly after the blaze was reported in the Calimesa area, Turner said while with family members at an evacuation center.
“She said she’s getting her purse and she’s getting out, and the line went dead,” he said.
Arvickson’s neighbors saw her getting into her car in her garage as flames approached, according to Turner. A short time later the neighbors saw the garage on fire, but they don’t know if she’d managed to escape, he said.
Riverside County fire officials said they’re still trying to determine if anybody is unaccounted for after 74 structures were destroyed.
Previously authorities said they responded to “numerous” medical emergencies at the park. Several residents were transported to hospitals but there were no details on their conditions, county fire Capt. Fernando Herrera said.
Turner said he’s been checking hospitals.
Fire danger is high throughout California after the typically dry summer and early fall. The high temperatures and winds predicted for inland areas of Southern California materialized mid-afternoon Thursday, when the driver of a commercial trash truck dumped the load to prevent the vehicle from catching fire.
Dry grass quickly ignited and winds gusting to 50 mph (80 kph) blew the fire into the Villa Calimesa Mobile Home Park, where Arvickson lived alone about 75 miles (120 kilometers) east of downtown Los Angeles. The park has 110 home sites and was built in 1958, according to its website. TV helicopter video showed vehicles and structures that were total losses.
About 160 students sheltered in place as smoke enveloped nearby Mesa View Middle School before buses arrived and evacuated them to another school outside the fire zone.
Fire officials were investigating what caused the trash in the truck to catch fire.
Linda Klosek, 70, and her daughter Stacey Holloway, 43, had gone grocery shopping and were on their way back home to Villa Calimesa when they saw their neighbors evacuating.
“You couldn’t even see anything, the smoke was so thick,” said Linda.
From the evacuation center they watched on TV as flames destroyed their home.
“When you’re watching it, it’s like someone else’s home,” Stacey said. They returned $60 worth of groceries to the store because now “there’s no place to put it.”
The blaze, dubbed the Sandalwood Fire, was 10% percent contained Thursday night. It was one of several that broke out amid high winds and dry conditions that prompted California utilities to preemptively cut power to more than 2 million people in high-danger areas to guard against power lines sparking fires. The area that includes the mobile home park still had its power when the fire occurred.
To the west of Calimesa, firefighters contained a blaze that damaged two homes near Fontana. It was not immediately clear whether the power outage included the location where the fire broke out.
In Northern California, a brush fire sparked Thursday morning in the San Bruno Mountains south of San Francisco, prompting voluntary evacuations. No homes burned and firefighters made quick progress.
Weber reported from Los Angeles.