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June 17, 2024

Deputies arrest 5 suspected looters, as CZU Lightning Complex fires grow

SANTA CRUZ MOUNTAINS—Santa Cruz County Sheriff’s deputies on Friday arrested five people suspected of looting evacuated homes on Fall Creek Drive, a small community in the Santa Cruz Mountains near Felton.

Jose Gandarilla, Susana Luna, Crystal Araujo, Sara Loretz and Crystle Parstch-Lucchesi face numerous felony and misdemeanor charges. They were all booked into Santa Cruz County Jail in lieu of $100,000, jail records showed.

According to Sheriff’s spokeswoman Ashley Keehn, deputies received a report of looters on Fall Creek Drive. Deputies attempted to stop two cars in the area – one stopped, but the other attempted to flee and ended up in a ditch, Keehn said.

“In no way are we leaving these areas unsecured,” she said. “We are doing our best and will continue to do our best and if you come to victimize our community you will see that.”

Sheriff’s Chief Deputy Chris Clark, who is serving as unified incident commander for the fire, said that 60 law enforcement officials are patrolling the evacuation zone, looking for looters.

“There are people out there unfortunately who are looking to victimize people who have left and have been displaced,” Clark said. “It’s terrible and disgusting.” 

The CZU August Lightning Complex fires have now scorched 57,000 acres, and firefighters late Friday said they have the blaze 2% contained.

Firefighters reported favorable weather conditions, with cool temperatures, humidity and wind that kept some of the smoke at bay. Those conditions were expected to continue through Friday night.

Some 24,000 structures are threatened, and 97 have so far been destroyed, including several homes in the Riverside Grove neighborhood, three miles north of Boulder Creek.

The number of destroyed structures is expected to climb, as fire officials have more than doubled the number of damage inspection teams.

A total of 1,157 personnel are battling the fire, and two have suffered minor injuries. Detectives, meanwhile, are looking for two people that have been reported missing from the evacuation zone.

Ian Larkin, Cal Fire Chief for the Santa Cruz region, said that the fire—and the efforts to quell it—will be here for the “long haul.”

He also implored the community to stay away from the evacuated areas.

“If you are in the area and you don’t need to be there, please leave so we can do our job,” he said.

Todd Guild
Todd Guild
General assignment reporter, covering nearly every beat. I specialize in feature stories, but equally skilled in hard and spot news. Pajaronian/Good Times/Press Banner reporter honored by CSBA. https://pajaronian.com/r-p-reporter-honored-by-csba/

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