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Trash truck driver arrested for setting 2019 deadly Calimesa wildfire

A suspect has been arrested in connection to the 2019 sandalwood fire in Calimesa.

Authorities have arrested a suspect in connection to the 2019 Sandalwood fire in Calimesa, to the west of the Coachella Valley and Beaumont.

Antonio Ornelas-Velazquez, 38

In a CalFire statement, investigators said they arrested Antonio Ornelas-Velazquez, 38, Saturday on Santa Rosa Road in Desert Hot Springs.

Firefighters said Ornelas-Velazquez was driving a trash truck that caught fire and ignited the 1,011 acre wildfire.

The blaze broke out about 2 p.m. October 10 at Sandalwood Drive and
Seventh Street, near the I-10 exit ramp. A burning load of trash was dumped next to tinder dry brush on the hot and windy day.

Investigators have said the driver of the trash truck released the
load after a fire erupted inside the scoop.

The resulting fire burned into a nearby mobile home park where it killed two people, and eventually destroyed 72 buildings and damaged 16 others. Hannah Labelle, 61, and Lois Arvikson, 89, died when flames consumed their doublewide trailers at Villa Calimesa Mobile Home Park, which was destroyed as winds blew in excess of 40 mph.

Ornelas-Velazquez was charged with suspicion of unlawfully causing a fire that causes great bodily injury and two counts of involuntary manslaughter. He was booked then released from jail on $75,000 bail.

Weeks after the fire, attorneys representing victims said they planned to sue the waste collection company CR&R, alleging the driver's actions led directly to the fire.

Crime / News Headlines / Top Stories / Wildfire

Jeff Stahl

You can watch Jeff every weekday morning on News Channel 3 in the Morning and News Channel 3 at Noon. Learn more about Jeff here.

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