July 7, 2004

Transients blamed for Bowling Alley fire

A house engulfed in flames near Balboa Place in Needles is shadowed by dark smoke clouds.

News West / Needles Desert Star

NEEDLES — Transients are blamed for igniting a wild fire that charred 60 acres of land and destroyed a house near the Colorado River on June 29, a fire spokeswoman said. What is being called the Bowling Alley fire erupted just before 5 p.m. behind an abandoned bowling alley on Balboa Place near the Needles Highway.

The fire quickly spread through heavy brush east toward the river and north and south, threatening residential areas and taking down one house, a shed, trees, desert vegetation, fences and utility lines in its path.

At about 5:30 p.m. flames jumped the river and started spot fires along the Arizona riverbanks. However, those flames reportedly burned themselves out before spreading.

While the exact cause of the blaze is not yet known, fire investigators determined it originated from “transient activity” in the brush behind the abandoned building, said Tracey Martinez, San Bernardino County Fire Department public information officer.

A total of 94 fire personnel responded to the scene along the Colorado River from as far away as Fontana, Calif. By 7 p.m., they had the fire largely controlled and were pushing the blaze toward the Colorado River, said Don Fisher, Fort Mojave Mesa Fire Department public information officer.

“There are several areas where they are actually backfiring it back to the river to burn the fuel down, so a lot of the fire you see has been intentionally set by the fire departments,” Fisher said the night of the blaze.

Specially trained wildland strike teams and bulldozers, along with firefighters and equipment from eight Arizona and California fire departments, were used to control the flames. The fire was completely contained at 11:45 p.m., Martinez said.

The fire was originally under the command of Mohave Valley Fire Department Chief Mel Sorenson. Command was transferred to the San Bernardino County Fire Department at about 7:30 p.m.

San Bernardino County Fire Capt. Tom Marshall said some residences from the Fort Mojave Tribal Village were evacuated as a precaution. Martinez said all of the residents were allowed to return to their homes by early Wednesday morning.

A house near the bowling alley was destroyed in the fire’s path and another nearby home was also exposed to the flames.

Ruth and Philip Neal own the partially-burned home. They said crews reported they were able to save the house along with several others in the area, but they watched their neighbors’ home completely burn. “Hers is completely gone,” Ruth Neal said. “There’s just nothing left, just a shell.”

Needles historian Maggie McShan owns a building near the fire and said it was burning mostly in the Needles Lagoon area. “It’s a disastrous fire as far as wildlife is concerned,” McShan said. However, the historian also said this is not the first fire in the area and in 1992 a larger fire in the Lagoon destroyed three buildings.

Firefighting crews from San Bernardino County, Mohave Valley, Fort Mojave Mesa, Oatman, Golden Shores, Lake Havasu City, Bullhead City, Arizona Fish and Game and Arizona State Fire all responded to the scene.