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Garbage truck driver arrested in California Sandalwood fire that killed two people

Antonio Ornelas-Velazquez is accused of igniting the deadly fire that burned more than 1,000 acres in 2019.
Image: Calimesa Fire
Firefighters try to protect surrounding homes as they battle the Sandalwood Fire in the Villa Calimesa Mobile Home Park in Calimesa, Calif., on Oct. 10, 2019.Jennifer Cappuccio Maher / The Orange County Register/SCNG via AP

A California garbage truck driver has been arrested in connection with the 2019 Sandalwood fire that killed two people and burned more than 1,000 acres, authorities said.

Antonio Ornelas-Velazquez was taken into custody on Saturday by peace officers with the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.

He's been charged with two counts of involuntary manslaughter and one count of unlawfully causing a fire that causes great bodily injury.

Ornelas-Velazquez is accused of igniting the deadly fire after he dumped a burning load of trash next to dry vegetation, the Riverside County Fire Department said in a tweet.

"The fire spread from the burning pile of trash into the dry vegetation, resulting in the deaths of two civilians, 72 structures destroyed, 16 structures damaged and burned more than 1,000 acres of vegetation," fire officials said.

According to an arrest report, two different drivers warned Ornelas-Velazquez that dumping the burning trash was a fire risk. Authorities said he ignored the warnings and dumped the garbage, causing a bush to catch on fire.

Strong winds then pushed the flames toward a mobile home park, the report states.

The blaze was contained in October 2019.

Both victims were discovered in the Villa Calimesa Mobile Home Park. One was identified by authorities as 89-year-old Lois Arvikson.

Arvikson's son told reporters he was on the phone with his mother as she was preparing to leave her home when the line suddenly went dead, according to NBC Los Angeles.

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The other victim was identified as Hannah Labelle, 61, according to The Desert Sun. Kaitlin Campbell, a family friend, told the newspaper that Labelle was "frantically" trying to fight the fast-moving blaze with a garden hose as flames came up from behind her house.

"A witness said they [saw] her go inside her home after being unable to fight the fire, only never to be seen again," Campbell said.

Authorities found her body inside her home and later pronounced her dead, The Desert Sun reported.