A house fire in Twentynine Palms killed two dogs yesterday. According to Fire Captain Robert Marquez, Twentynine Palms firefighters and units from the Combat Center and Wonder Valley fire stations were called to a fully involved house fire in the 6600 block of El Rey Avenue at 6 p.m. Sunday.


Neighbors told firefighters there may be victims trapped inside the home, but fire fighters did not find any victims other than the two dogs, who were found in a bedroom. The home is a total loss. The origin of the fire is believed to have been in the living room; the cause is under investigation. Captain Marquez reminds residents to stay away from the scene of a fire; he said “looky loos” were in the way of firefighters trying to fight the fire. Under California law, it is illegal to drive by or park within 800 feet of a fire.


A new pilot program between the San Bernardino County fire Department and Sheriff’s Department was put to good use yesterday. A motorcycle rider, who was wearing his helmet and full motorcycle gear—was riding in the desert in Johnson Valley when he lost control of his bike while riding off Bodick Road. The rider suffered minor head injuries. Fire Captain Matt Anderson of the Yucca Mesa fire station said a Sheriff’s helicopter with a fire captain and paramedic on board was called in to transport the injured rider to Arrowhead Medical Center. He said the chopper’s entire flight time, from being dispatched to the patient’s arrival at the hospital was 1 hour 5 minutes, significantly shorter than if the patient had been transported by ambulance, and within the one hour window so critical for head trauma patients.


In the wake of a mailbox theft rampage in December, fraudulent transactions have now shown up in the bank accounts of several area residents and victims. Dan Stork tells of the repercussions…

During the night of December 20, many locked community mailboxes in the Morongo Basin were vandalized and emptied.  Later that day, opened mail from some of those boxes were found dumped miles away. After the dumped mail was sorted, the post office returned what they could to addressees or senders. One addressee, a homeowners’ association in Joshua Tree, then notified some members that checks they had written for annual dues had been stolen. Some residents, who had checks stolen in that theft, upon reviewing their bank activity, have found one or more withdrawals against their bank accounts that they had not made, at least one in amounts over $2000. Another account showed five withdrawals, totaling over $900. The check numbers were clearly fraudulent. Each transaction was labeled “Converted ACH.” Sheriff’s Deputy Leach told us that the thieves likely had checks printed, using the account number and bank routing number from a stolen check.  Other deputies are working on similar cases. On the bank’s advice, the account number was changed. The account holder is not liable for the losses—according to the bank, that will eventually fall on the businesses that accepted payment—in this case including Wal-Mart, Home Depot, and Kohl’s. After changing account numbers, account holders who pay their bills online through electronic debiting of accounts, or who receive payments through direct deposit, will need to notify all involved of the change.


As we take a look back at 2013, there are some news highlights of note: More than 1,000 residents attended a job fair in Twentynine Palms in July for 100 to 150 jobs at the new Tortoise Rock Casino being developed by the 29 Palms Band of Mission Indians. The response was so unexpected and overwhelming that the company ran out of applications and had to end interviews early. Tortoise Rock Casino plans to open in early 2014 in a 30,000-square foot building that will feature gaming, retail, entertainment, and dining.


Construction started in November on the former Blue Skies Golf Course in Yucca Valley. The golf course was bought by Bill Brehm at a foreclosure auction in July 2012. The course is being developed as a 12-hole course, and should open late summer or early fall of 2014.


Some Morongo Basin residents are irate about two sets of medians proposed for Highway 62. In August, CalTrans put up temporary posts without warning along a stretch of highway in Morongo Valley. The Yucca Valley Town Council is taking heat for giving the go-ahead to a median project in Old Town that business owners say will prevent shoppers from turning into their businesses and force large delivery trucks onto residential streets.


A deal was made to preserve most of the Johnson Valley Off-Highway Vehicle (OHV) area while still allowing the Marines to conduct exercises in the area. The National Defense Authorization Act of 2013 preserves about 100,000 acres of Johnson Valley while allowing the Marines to expand the Twentynine Palms Marine Base into a portion of Johnson Valley, and ending the threat of military expansion to the remaining off-road area. The Marines will be allowed to use a portion of the nearly 100,000 acre Johnson Valley Off-Highway Vehicle Recreation Area for a maximum of 60 days per year, and the area will be open to the off-road community for recreational use during the remaining 305 days.


As we start the new year of 2014, here are highlights of some of the top news stories for YuccaValley in 2013…

A recall effort against two members of the Yucca Valley Town Council failed when the Registrar of Voters determined the recall petitions did not have enough valid signatures. Council members George Huntington and Robert Lombardo were served with recall notices in April. During the recall effort, the Town Council fired Town Manager Mark Nuaimi in August without cause, giving him a severance payment of $126,000. The Registrar’s bill to the Town of Yucca Valley for reviewing the petitions and the recount was more than $20,000.


A Beaumont man was killed May 9 during an attempted carjacking in YuccaValley in May, and one of the suspected carjackers was killed by police in San Bernardino following a pursuit by law enforcement. Jose Gomez and Bryan Valle, 19, both of Earlimart, are suspected of killing Obette Lacap, 33, after they attempted to carjack his car at the Town Center Mall. Valley was killed by law enforcement in San Bernardino during a gun battle; Jose Gomez is awaiting trial.


Continuing our review of notable events of 2013, two celebrities with ties to the Morongo Basin died last year. Folksy icon, California television personality, and Twentynine Palms resident Huell Howser, 67, died January 7. The television host chronicled the hidden history of the Golden State in his public television series, “California’s Gold.” A familiar face in Twentynine Palms, where he maintained a residence, Howser was known for his down-home manner and for his trademark phrases, “That’s amazing” and “Oh my gosh!”


On June 6, “America’s Mermaid,” 91-year-old Esther Williams, died in her sleep. Williams, a star of both the swimming pool and the silver screen, was proclaimed Honorary Mayor of Twentynine Palms in 1948. Esther Williams was well-loved in Twentynine Palms and was a frequent visitor and Pioneer Days Grand Marshall. Her brother Dave lived here for many years establishing Williams Plumbing, now Williams Mechanical, as did several of their cousins. Esther Williams and her second husband, Ben Gage, built a home in Yucca Valley. Her niece, Nancy Huntington, is married to Yucca Valley Town Councilman George Huntington.


What we may think of as a common toy is bringing real danger to the wildlife in Joshua Tree National Park. Park Ranger Pam Tripp has this precaution……. Something commonly used for celebration or as a memorial, and thought of as a harmless decoration is one of the most hazardous threats to the desert tortoise and other wildlife in Joshua Tree National Park. One of the least known pollutants that affect our park is mylar, latex, or string balloons. They float in from areas such as Los Angeles, a distance so great that one might never consider the consequences one balloon could have on wildlife 140 miles away. Approximately 71,000 balloons make their way to Joshua Tree each year based on surveys done in the park. Bright, shiny balloons resemble wild flowers to animals and have been found in the stomachs of dead tortoises and other wildlife. Vegetation becomes entangled with balloon strings, and animals are again enticed to eat or use this foreign matter. In place of balloons, try bubbles or biodegradable party décor. This is a great way to help us protect our wildlife.


The Twentynine Palms Library will offer a FREE mature driver education class every Wednesday from 2 to 3:30 p.m., beginning January 8. This continuous class will cover everything needed to pass the DMV written exam over any given six-week period. Seniors can join the class at any time during the year, and no pre-registration is necessary. Both the California Driver Handbook and sections of the Senior Guide to Safe Driving Handbook are reviewed. In each class, students are given sample written driver tests and the answers are discussed with references made to their location in the handbook. If you have any questions or concerns, please contact the Twentynine Palms Library during open hours at 760-367-9519. The library is open Monday through Wednesday, 11 a.m. to 7 p.m., Thursday 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. and Saturday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.


The Animal Action League will be offering low-cost vaccine clinics in January for dogs and cats, as well as low-cost spaying and neutering. No appointments are necessary for vaccines; appointments are required for spay and neutering services. Clinics will be held in Joshua Tree, behind the dinosaurs on Highway 62, from 10 to 2 on January 7, 9, 13, 15, 23, and 29. To make an appointment for spay or neutering, call 760-322-4560. Visit for updated schedules on clinics.


Some areas of the Morongo Basin will receive distributions of surplus federal food on dates other than the regular second Monday.  Reporter Dan Stork has the times and places… The Community Action Partnership of San Bernardino will distribute surplus food to low-income residents of the Morongo Basin.  The locations and times are: Pacific Clinics, 56020 Santa Fe Trail, in Yucca Valley, on Wednesday January 8, from 3 to 5 p.m.; the Waystation, 61722 Commercial   Street in Joshua Tree, on Friday January 10, from 9 to noon; the American Food Bank, 55922 Twentynine Palms Highway in Yucca Valley, on Tuesday January 28, from 11 to 1. Recipients are requested to bring their own paper or plastic bags. The Community Action Partnership of San Bernardino is a private, non-profit organization that seeks to serve the low-income families, elderly, disadvantaged and homeless of the county. For more information, call 909-723-1580.