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October 3, 2023

County Fairgrounds sets up shelter for fire evacuees

WATSONVILLECal Fire on Tuesday night ordered more than 22,000 residents in Santa Cruz and San Mateo counties to evacuate as the CZU August Lightning Complex fires began to spread throughout the Santa Cruz Mountains.

Temporary shelters have been set up across the region to house evacuees. This includes one at Pescadero High School, one at the Santa Cruz Civic Auditorium and one at the Santa Cruz County Fairgrounds in Watsonville.

Fairgrounds CEO Dave Kegebin said he, staff and volunteers have been hard at work setting up the shelter, which as of Wednesday morning had checked in about 75 people. Tents and single cots are currently situated in Crocetti Hall and the Harvest Building, and the Fine Arts Building is ready for overflow. Livestock areas were also being prepared to house displaced animals.

“It’s been a mad scramble,” Kegebin said. “Since we weren’t having the Fair this year, many of our buildings were full of equipment… we had to clear everything out and clean up pretty quickly.”

Fair Board Director Lori Estrada said that tents had already been set up in the Crocetti building as possible emergency shelter during the Covid-19 pandemic. Estrada recalled that it had been about 11 years since the fairgrounds had been used as a shelter—and now it was happening twice in six months.

“Nothing about this was planned, but that’s how life is,” she said. “We just do what we can.”

Boulder Creek resident Melissa Leon said she was able to get herself, her four dogs and two cats, and a car load of supplies out safely. But her house was a lost cause.

“I might not be able to go back until September… to take photos and all that,” she said. “Then will come dealing with insurance companies.”

Leon said she was grateful for the emergency shelter. Friends had been offering to help, but the shelter offers a safe environment with plenty of supplies and assistance. 

“This is really the best place to be,” she said. “It has the funding to help us for the long term.”

Another evacuee, who asked not to be named, said he had left home at about 5am. So far, the fires have not reached the duplex he lives in with his girlfriend, and he is confident they are far enough away from the fire line.

“But it’s always good to be careful,” he said. “We’re playing it safe.”For updates on the CZU August Lightning Complex fires click here.

Johanna Miller
Reporter Johanna Miller grew up in Watsonville, attending local public schools and Cabrillo College before transferring to Pacific University Oregon to study Literature. She covers arts and culture, business, nonprofits and agriculture.

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