Three people on board the plane died late Wednesday, said Riverside Fire Battalion Chief Mike Esparza. No one on the ground was hurt.
Esparza said witnesses thought the plane started having trouble soon after taking off from Riverside Municipal Airport, less than a half mile away. It was unclear if the pilot was trying to return to the airport at the time of the crash.
Steve Kiser said he was outside his home when he saw the plane coming toward him, barely clearing the power lines. He said the plane veered, then nose-dived onto the street.
"I knew he wasn't going to make it," Kiser told the Riverside-Press Enterprise, adding the plane sounded like it had engine trouble. "It blew up and all the trees caught fire."
CBS affiliate KCAL also reported that witnesses at the scene said the pilot veered to the right in an apparent effort to land the plane in the middle of the street, according to Esparza.
"The pilot really did a tremendous job, I can't say it enough," Esparza said. "Right where the plane crashed into a parked car, there were two civilians standing in a yard about 25 to 30 feet away from the crash."
"It is a huge tragedy for the persons involved in the crash and their families. But this pilot really made quite an effort to avoid crashing into any of these homes," Esparza told KCAL.
Firefighters received calls of the crash just after 10 p.m., and when they arrived the plane was engulfed in flames, Esparza said.
A TV news helicopter showed firefighters dousing flames over the smashed remains of the plane and a car.
Riverside is about 60 miles east of Los Angeles. It was the third plane crash in surrounding Riverside County in a little more than a month.
Four people suffered minor injuries Tuesday when a small plane crash-landed in a brush-covered canyon near Murrieta. On Jan. 20, two small planes collided over Corona, killing five people, including one on the ground hit by falling debris.