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Sandalwood Fire: Anger About What Was Lost. Some Homes Are 'Just A Pile Of Ash'

The Villa Calimesa Mobile Home Park has been shut down indefinitely after a fire ripped through the community in Riverside County. (Emily Elena Dugdale / LAist)
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Brandy Jones stands outside the Villa Calimesa Mobile Home Park and points to the remains of her house, past blackened hills and a chain-link fence with a "no trespassing" sign. It's pretty much gone.

Her home was one of more than 70 structures destroyed last week in the Sandalwood Fire, which grew to slightly more than 1,000 acres before being fully contained Monday evening, fire officials said. The fire started when a garbage truck dumped burning trash near the mobile home community in Riverside County, about 9 miles east of Redlands.

Two people died. Eighty-nine-year-old Lois Arvikson was found dead inside a burned mobile home on Oct. 10, the day the fire broke out. The Riverside County coroner has not yet identified the remains of a second person found in another mobile home.

The extent of the devastation in Calimesa was overtaken, at least partially, when a much larger fire sparked in Los Angeles later the same night.

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Now Jones and others who lost their homes are struggling to pick up the pieces. She and her husband, Travis, have been coming back to Villa Calimesa every day hoping to get in, but the mobile home park is off-limits for now.

"We can't even try to move forward, because we cannot get our property assessed by our insurance people," she said.


Their story is harrowing. The couple was at work when the fire broke out. They watched their house burn on TV. Their two adopted children -- including a two-month-old they just adopted two weeks ago -- narrowly escaped in the arms of their babysitter.

Brandy Jones's dogs. (Emily Elena Dugdale/LAist)

"They literally got out with 10 minutes to spare before the house burned to the ground," she said.

Their two dogs are feared dead. When Brandy Jones returned briefly right after the fire to search through the rubble, all she found was jewelry and her husband's melted gun. The power of the fire was clear from the debris, she said.

"I found like a tea kettle that's been thrown a good hundred feet from where the kitchen would have been," Jones said.

Now, they're staring down the long process of rebuilding. She said a lot of people are angry about the trash truck driver who started the fire by dumping his burning load.

She asked: "Okay, you're going to lose your million dollar truck, you've lost now 70 plus homes, two lives. What's worth it, your truck, or our homes and our lives?"

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Jill and Joel Robinson's mobile home also was completely destroyed.

"It's just a pile of ash," Jill Robinson said.

She spent Wednesday at a Red Cross assistance center in Calimesa where she filled out an application to replace their marriage license.

The Robinsons said this loss hits much harder because they didn't have homeowner's insurance.

"We were never able to get it," she said, "and a bunch of people in the park were recently dropped from their insurances, too."

Joel Robinson explained they were told it was "because of the fire hazard. It's built on that canyon that's just brush. "

They knew the risk.

Jill and Joel Robinson's mobile home was completely destroyed in the Sandalwood Fire. (Emily Elena Dugdale / LAist)

"Every time there was a fire, we were nervous," she said. "We never actually thought it would happen though."

The couple also lost both of their cars -- one of which they said was loaded with $12,000 worth of tools for Joel's cabinet making business.

The Robinsons said they were focused, for now, on small victories. Like a new marriage license, and some Walmart gift cards they got from the Salvation Army.

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