Ken Young appeared to have very little before flames raced through the brushy field where a sheriff’s pursuit ended Thursday and severely damaged his small, ramshackle Moreno Valley home.
Now he has even less.
Residents of the neighborhood that includes Phyllis, Ella, Bertie and Bay avenues on Friday, Aug. 16, dealt with the aftermath of the fire, whose flames and smoke caused four homes to be red-tagged as uninhabitable — including the one Young rents — and at least one to be yellow-tagged for limited occupancy.
Workers with restoration and fencing businesses tried to bring some normalcy Friday. An electric saw could be heard inside a home where insulation sat stacked outside.
But for Young, 65, his problems were not so easily fixed. One bedroom of his one-story, Phyllis Avenue home was gutted by flames and another now has a hole in the roof.
He makes money as a caretaker for handicapped people. He lives with his handicapped son, March, and another son, Tank. Young said he does not have renters insurance.
At midday Friday, he also no longer had food, water, clothing or shelter. Even the garden where he grew eggplant and cucumbers was destroyed.
“What do I do?” Young wondered.
He thought the family would have to sleep on the porch Friday night, but the American Red Cross was on its way to help the family Friday afternoon, spokeswoman Nancy Hatzidakis said.
Cal Fire estimated the total loss of homes and cars – some nine vehicles were destroyed by flames – at $1.5 million. Property valued at about $5 million was saved, the agency said.
The fire started just after 4 p.m. on a 100-degree day. Riverside County sheriff’s deputies said they had pursued a reported stolen car as it drove “recklessly through parking lots and traveling in oncoming lanes of traffic,” a news release said. Twice, the release said, the driver tried to ram the pursuing marked patrol vehicles.
The pursuit continued into the 22200 block of Bay Avenue, where the suspect vehicle crashed through a chain-link fence and onto the 5-acre field behind a fourplex, where tinder-dry brush grew 3 to 4 feet tall. The area around the vehicle caught fire. The flames consumed the three vehicles, including two patrol cars, and, pushed by winds, blew into the neighborhood.
Cal Fire arson investigators determined that the fire started from the suspects’ vehicle, the release said.
No injuries were reported. A woman who was having difficulty breathing was driven away from the evacuation center at TownGate Elementary by ambulance.
Some residents expressed concern about the upkeep of the field. The property owner could not be contacted Friday.
The Sheriff’s Department identified the suspects Friday evening as Phillip Moreno, 47, of Moreno Valley, and Aliett Perez Saldana, 28, of Highland.
Moreno, who was identified as the driver, was arrested on suspicion of four counts of assault with a deadly weapon, four counts of attempted murder of a peace officer and one count each of arson, felony evading, possession of a stolen vehicle and conspiracy. He was being held without bail.
Saldana, his passenger, was arrested on suspicion of conspiracy and possession of a stolen vehicle. She posted $10,000 bail and was released Friday, jail records show.
County spokeswoman Brooke Federico, asked if the county was assessing its potential liability, said in an email: “After incidents such as this, the county conducts an investigation in anticipation of litigation.”
The Sheriff’s Department is investigating the pursuit.
The department has a committee that reviews all pursuits, Lt. Chris Durham said. The supervisor who authorized the pursuit fills out paperwork that includes speed, how long the pursuit lasted, the reason for the chase, how many patrol cars were involved, property damage, collisions and suspect information.
The station’s command reviews the documents and forwards them to the pursuit committee, which makes recommendations for training, discipline and equipment.
“Every action, even when it is a split-second decision, has to be explained,” Durham wrote in an email Friday.