SCOTTS VALLEY—The level of containment in the CZU August Lightning Complex fires continues to increase, and so does the number of confirmed destroyed and damaged structures.
The blaze in the Santa Cruz Mountains has destroyed 746 structures and is still threatening more than 13,000 others in Santa Cruz and San Mateo counties as it enters its 12th day, local Cal Fire Division Chief Jonathon Cox said at a Thursday evening press conference. All but 11 destroyed structures are in Santa Cruz County.
Cox said it has burned through 81,479 acres and is 24% contained. The number of burned buildings only reflects about two-thirds of the burn zone that crews have been able to access.
Cal Fire Operations Chief Mark Brunton said Thursday morning that firefighters have seen in the past few days “a lot of good success.”
“But we are moving into a drier set of days, with warmer weather,” he said. “The humidity is expected to drop and we’re going to see some wind.”
Brunton said utility crews were also busy securing neighborhoods, dealing with burned and toppled power lines to help make it safe for emergency workers to penetrate the burn zones.
“We’ve got a good line around Felton and it is holding well,” Brunton said. “We had a control burn Wednesday and got it about three quarters done near Ben Lomond.”
The evacuation order on the UC Santa Cruz campus was lifted early Thursday and Scotts Valley residents were also allowed to return home Thursday evening. But the more than 55,000 residents of other evacuation zones will have to wait a few days—or weeks—to return home.
Santa Cruz County Sheriff’s Chief Deputy Chris Clark on Wednesday night gave a rough outline for when law enforcement will repopulate those areas.
He said it could be a week before officers allow Felton to repopulate. Residents of areas such as Boulder Creek and Bonny Doon that are closer to the fire will be waiting more than a week, he added.
Clark on Thursday emphasized patience during the evacuations.
“We totally understand; we know people want to get back into their homes,” Clark said.
He strongly discouraged people from lining up and waiting at checkpoints, but rather, to follow updates at https://bit.ly/2Ex7M2K.
Cal Fire Incident Commander Billy See said that getting people back into their homes will be a priority “over the course of the next 48 hours.”
“This takes a lot of agencies to be in place, to make sure there is electricity, our roadways are safe and to make sure water is in place,” See said.
Ian Larkin, Cal Fire Assistant Chief, said the fire has taken out a lot of power lines, and numerous guardrails.
“We have every resource available working this scene,” he said.
There were 2,019 personnel fighting the blaze on Thursday.
Caltrans has also been playing a big role in helping crews gain access to burned-out sections of Boulder Creek and other spots.
While there were 60 police officers from various agencies working the fire area Wednesday, Clark said that number would narrow to 21.
“Last night was fairly quiet,” he said. “There were no arrests.”
There has been one fatality, a 73-year-old man, Tad Jones. Three people were reported missing. However, one of them was safely located, Clark said.
He added that animal services “have been inundated,” largely in trying to round up pets that people left behind in their rush to clear out.
“Last night we hit over 100 homes searching for pets left behind,” Clark said.
The Santa Cruz County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday declared a state of emergency in the county due to the fire.
County Administrative Officer Carlos Palacios, who also serves as the director of the county’s Office of Emergency Services, made the emergency declaration on Aug. 19, but it required approval from the supervisors.
The declaration allows the county to receive California Disaster Assistance Act revenue and other federal disaster relief funding.
Tony Nuñez and Todd Guild contributed to this report.