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Sandalwood Fire cause prompts question of trash company policies

CALIMESA, Calif – The cause to last week’s deadly Sandalwood Fire is no secret, after a trash truck driver dumped burning trash onto nearby brush. The fire quickly ignited and engulfed a nearby mobile home park, killing two people and destroying 76 mobile homes in Calimesa.

The cause has prompted many questions over the practices of trash companies and dumping.

Blake Wade with Palm Springs Disposal Services says trash fires happen at least once or twice a year.

“Trash fires are not uncommon. They do happen out here as well,” Wade said.

Wade says the reason is due to a variety of hazardous materials being disposed of.

“Most fires are started within the load itself; inside the body of the truck and it’s usually due to hazardous materials being thrown away by customers and it mixing with other chemicals or sparking inside the truck itself and causing a fire,” Wade said.

Wade says the company’s policy calls to immediately pack the load and eliminate any oxygen, and also close the lid. They then contact the fire department, which will direct them on what to do in the event of a trash fire.

“Most of the time they will try to put the fire out within the body. If they can’t they will instruct us to dump the load somewhere, wherever they feel comfortable, and we will dump. They will be on the side to immediately put it out as we dump it,” Wade said.

Trash dumping practices have recently come under the microscope after last week’s Sandalwood Fire erupted. The blaze broke out after a trash truck driver in Calimesa dumped burning garbage onto nearby brush.

“Something that started as a small fire fanned into an inferno of originally 500 acres, and is now at 1011 acres,” Captain Fernando Herrera of the Riverside County Fire Department said.

Herrera also warns against using motorized equipment during this time of year.

“Clearing weeds, you want to start early and you want to stop before 10 o’clock when it gets too hot, but when you have the wind events coming through, then you shouldn’t be doing any of that,” Capt. Herrera said.

Meanwhile, the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department says the driver of the garbage truck is cooperating. An investigation is ongoing to determine with charges will be filed.

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