BANNING, Calif. – Morongo Band of Mission Indians Tribal Chairman Robert Martin and Riverside County Supervisor Marion Ashley announced on Oct. 27 that the Morongo Tribe will double Riverside County’s original $100,000 reward for information leading to the arrest of the Esperanza fire arsonist. With contributions from the state and other sources, the fund now totals $400,000.
“Lives have been lost, homes destroyed and thousands of acres lie blackened in this tragedy,” said Martin. “This is a heinous crime and the person or persons involved should be prosecuted to the full extent of the law. Dramatically increasing the fund is one way to expedite identifying the people responsible.”
The blaze claimed the lives of five U.S. Forest Service firefighters, destroyed more than three dozen homes and blackened more than 60 square miles of land. It started on Oct. 26 and was declared contained on Oct. 30.
The BIA reported that more than 1,200 acres on the Morongo Reservation have been destroyed. The tribe is already working with the U.S. Forestry Service on plans for reforestation and investigating recovery of archaeological sites.
“The Morongo tribe is standing with their friends and with their community,” Ashley said. “This tribe is no stranger to loss and they have lost reservation lands in this fire, too. It is no surprise to those who know them that they have been so fully involved from the very start. We are deeply, deeply grateful for their support.”
“We now have $400,000 to catch the murderous arsonists who caused this terrible event,” Ashley said.
On Oct. 26, as evacuations of families began, the tribe began working with the Riverside Chapter of the American Red Cross to serve lunch and dinner meals to the displaced Cabazon residents. Red Cross CEO Pam Anderson said the “response was instantaneous.” Hundreds of meals will be served from the temporary Red Cross shelter in Cabazon.
“We are serving a couple hundred meals daily at present,” Anderson said. “Morongo arrived yesterday with lunch and the food just keeps coming.”
Two fire victims, Charles and Victor Miner, who lost their home and suffered second-degree burns, were housed at the tribe’s casino Oct. 26. According to Morongo hotel Director Tom Mueller, they are coordinating with Banning city officials to provide lodging and meals for evacuees from the Cabazon area.
“We extend our deep condolences to the families of the firefighters lost yesterday,” said Martin. “In a tragedy like this, we have to pull together and help each other.”
The first call to Morongo for firefighters came in at 1:30 a.m. Oct. 26 and the first engine left the reservation five minutes later. According to Morongo Band of Mission Indians’ Fire Captain Tim Beadle, “it’s been 24/7 support ever since.”
The Morongo Tribe has a strong history of assisting neighboring communities in times of crisis. During the 2002 California wildfires, the tribe donated more $1 million to the American Red Cross for relief efforts and fed thousands of evacuees at temporary shelters.
During the more recent 2006 Sawtooth fire, Morongo housed the entire Incident Command Center for firefighters as well as providing land for the aerial firefighting.
“They met and exceeded all of our expectations,” said San Bernardino County Fire Warden Pat Dennen. “Their efforts and their facilities were invaluable.”