A brush fire killed one person and destroyed about 40 homes in a remote desert town near the shrinking Salton Sea, California’s largest lake, authorities said Monday.
Authorities went door to door in the aftermath of Sunday night’s fire, which jumped palm trees in the town Niland amid high winds. Imperial County said fire officials recovered one dead body, without elaborating on the person’s identity.
Crews extinguished hot spots Monday after the fire was contained, according to the county health department. By afternoon, power was restored to 414 customers, while 91 were still without it. 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. The county’s jobless rate stood at 27.8% in May.
It lies near Bombay Beach, a community that doubles to about 500 people during winter and has an apocalyptic feel. Utility poles and trailer debris that were flooded a few years ago are now exposed because the Salton Sea shrank.
The Salton Sea was created in 1905 when the Colorado River breached a dike and flooded for two years, bringing farm settlers to the Imperial Valley in California’s southeast corner. California’s largest lake by surface area soon became a desert playground.
A 1951 regatta boasted 21 world records. Celebrities including Frank Sinatra, Bing Crosby, the Beach Boys, Jerry Lewis, the Marx Brothers and Desi Arnaz flocked to the lake. The “Salton Riviera” rivaled nearby Palm Springs and attracted more tourists than Yosemite National Park.
Tropical storms in 1976 and 1977 destroyed marinas and resorts, triggering a prolonged economic decline. Environmental catastrophes, rising salinity and a receding shoreline caused tourism to plummet.
The Niland area draws retirees and some tourists. It is near a large, colorful sculpture called “Salvation Mountain,” which is painted with Christian sayings and Bible verses. “Slab City,” also nearby, is a scattered collection of off-the-grid dwellings on an abandoned military site.