Calimesa Residents Allowed to Pick up Belongings a Week After Sandalwood Fire Ravaged Mobile Home Community

Destroyed property in Calimesa appears in the aftermath of the Sandalwood Fire in a photo released by the California Department of Insurance on Oct. 16, 2019.

Destroyed property in Calimesa appears in the aftermath of the Sandalwood Fire in a photo released by the California Department of Insurance on Oct. 16, 2019.

A week after burning trash ignited a massive fire that destroyed a mobile home community in Calimesa where two people were found dead, residents were allowed to return to their property to sift through their belongings as authorities continued their investigation of the incident.

Most evacuation orders had been lifted by the time crews fully contained the 1.6 square-mile Sandalwood Fire on Oct. 14, but the Villa Calimesa Mobile Home Park remained off limits until Thursday, when Riverside County public health officials rescinded an order restricting access to the community.

The blaze destroyed 76 mobile homes and damaged 16 others, according to Cal Fire. The website for the Villa Calimesa Mobile Home Park said that it had enough plots for 110 homes, indicating that only about 18 may be undamaged.

An 89-year-old woman was found dead inside her home, officials said the morning after the fire started. The next day, officials announced another body discovered inside a mobile home. That person’s identity has not been released.

Dr. Cameron Kaiser, Riverside County’s public health officer, said it remains unsafe to live or stay in the mobile home park, even in the residences untouched by flames.

Cal Fire released this illustration of precautions to take upon returning home after a wildfire.

Cal Fire released this illustration of precautions to take upon returning home after a wildfire.

“Please remain in the area only for the minimum amount of time necessary to arrange safe cleanup or retrieve personal property,” Kaiser said in a statement. “It is highly likely that asbestos, toxic heavy metal, and other compounds are present in the ash in this area.”

He urged those who planned to assess their property to wear gloves, a properly fitted N-95 mask, long-sleeve clothing, long pants, and goggles, and to wash their their skin afterwards.

Authorities also warned against using vacuums and blowers and removing debris or ash unless authorized.

Children, elderly people, pregnant women, individuals suffering from heart or lung disease, and pets should avoid the area, county officials said.

Authorities have not announced whether or not charges will be made in the incident that began after a garbage truck driver dumped a burning load in the area. On Wednesday, investigators with Cal Fire asked for the public’s help with information and any videos or photos connected to the blaze. The agency can be reached by calling 951-943-4970.

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