VIDEO: Man Captures Moments Before Truck Ignited Sandalwood Fire
CALIMESA, CA — A Calimesa man who was the closest witness to the trash dump that started the devastating Sandalwood Fire tells Patch he pleaded with the truck’s driver not to dump his burning load in the dry vegetation where the blaze began.
“I told him, straight-up, that he was going to catch the valley on fire,” said Shawn Melvin, 37, a Yucaipa resident who was driving right behind the trash truck Thursday afternoon on 7th Street, on his way to pick up his daughter from Mesa View Middle School.
After spotting the burning load, Melvin’s son, Hunter, started taking a video at 1:55 p.m. The 22-second recording cuts off right as Melvin pulls up next to the truck driver — the exact location where the dump took place, Melvin believes — and begged him to get rid of the load somewhere else.
“He said, ‘Where do you want me to go?’ I said, ‘Anywhere but here would be good,'” Melvin remembered. “The overpass on the freeway — stop there, don’t stop here.”
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Melvin said the driver gave him a “blank stare,” seeming unsure of what to do. After about a minute, Melvin gave up and continued on to Mesa View, fearing — correctly, it turned out — that his daughter’s school would be threatened by the fire.
“That poor guy was following protocol with his company,” Melvin said.
Patch has reached out to the waste company believed to be involved and will update this story with any new information.
Melvin posted the video on Facebook on Thursday, and said Friday afternoon he was expecting a call from Cal Fire investigators. Cal Fire has already blamed the trash truck for the fire, which destroyed dozens of structures inside Villa Calimesa Mobile Home Park, burned 823 acres and still had not been contained by Friday afternoon.
The Sandalwood Fire is one of several major wildfires burning across Southern California, causing multiple fatalities and more than 100,000 evacuations.