Check back here for continuing coverage of the CZU August Lightning Complex fires. The most recent updates are added at the top.
Find the most recent Santa Cruz County evacuation and shelter resources at: santacruzcounty.us/fireresources.aspx.
Sept. 28, 4pm: County lays out feds’ environmental debris removal plan
A fire broke out in Wilder Ranch on Sunday, and after a few aerial attacks crews were able to contain it to just one acre.
This week, environmental health experts are starting their debris removal and cleanup, an important step in the recovery process for residents impacted by the CZU Lightning Complex fire.
Beginning next week, crews from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) will begin cleaning up household hazardous waste in the CZU Lightning Complex burn area. Removing hazardous waste protects the health and safety of residents and the environment, and federal officials are doing it at no cost to property owners.
Phase I debris removal will take several weeks, and include the removal of everyday products like paints, cleaners, solvents, oils, batteries, herbicides, pesticides, and pressurized fuel cylinders. Crews will identify weapons, ammunition and other dangerous materials for the Santa Cruz County Sheriff’s Office for further processing.
The EPA’s various crews, equipment and vehicles may cause traffic delays. Crews wear white protective clothing and are clearly identified as EPA team members, including carrying identification. They’ll never approach residents individually for special access or to solicit goods or services.
EPA’s Phase I Status map will be coming soon to the county’s fire recovery page, santacruzcounty.us/FireRecovery.aspx. Completed properties will display a white EPA placard and be noted on the Phase I Status map. Once properties are completed, property owners will be eligible to move into Phase II debris cleanup. Property owners may choose a public option or pursue private debris removal, which includes removal of ash and fire-related debris. Both require prior approval of the Santa Cruz County Environmental Health Division.
Sept. 24, 12pm: CZU fire fully contained, but challenges remain statewide amid record-breaking fire season
The CZU Lightning Complex fire is 100% contained, Cal Fire’s San Mateo-Santa Cruz Unit announced Tuesday evening.
All told, the fire destroyed 928 homes and damaged 90 others. In total, it destroyed 1,490 structures and damaged 140 more.
The local Cal Fire team released a video expressing gratitude for all the thank you letters they received from the community.
For a window into how fires affect those who lose their homes, see News Editor Jacob Pierce’s story on the county’s climate refugees.
Cal Fire announced Wednesday that there was a fire in Zayante, but crews contained it to a quarter of an acre. Investigators are looking into the cause.
The August Complex, the largest fire in California history, is currently burning in Mendocino County and in five other counties. Five of the six biggest-ever wildfires have burned this summer. All seven of the largest wildfires in state history burned within the last seven years.
Sept. 18, 1:30pm: Fire nearly fully contained; county clerk lays out voting procedures for evacuees
Firefighting crews have contained 97% of the CZU Lightning Complex fire, and it’s been two weeks since the fire grew in size, after burning 86,509 acres.
Earlier this week, the Santa Cruz County Board of Supervisors voted to move forward with plans to streamline rebuilding in the burn area, where the fire destroyed more than 900 homes. Also, Fire Chief Ian Larkin warned the board about the severity of risk from coming mudslides and debris flows, especially once the year’s rains start.
Also, the county announced that it will stop accepting donations related to fire relief at 4pm today. Community members donated at least 20,000 cases of water, 2,500 blankets, 2,000 sleeping bags and pillows, 1,200 tents, and 1,000 tarps.
At the height of the evacuations, the Santa Cruz Office of Emergency Services was running seven shelters locally. Now, the American Red Cross is managing the only remaining shelter at the Santa Cruz County Fairgrounds, where FEMA has established a presence and campers are negotiating a bureaucratic maze, as they apply for assistance and try to move back home.
Sue Child, a registered nurse from southern California, has been working at the shelter, where she says guests are grateful but the days can be hard. “You’ve got some that are really down, and some that are very optimistic, and it can flip-flop day to day,” Child said.
Voters displaced by the CZU Lightning Complex do not need to re-register to vote. They can fill out a change-of-address form on the County Elections Department’s website at votescount.us. The mailing address can be a place of work, the home of a family member or friend, or a post office box. Residents may also go to an in-person location to get a ballot or sign up to receive a ballot via email. “Ballots cannot be forwarded,” Pellerin explained in a press release.
Sept. 10, 4pm: Containment grows slowly; water quality issues persist
Although the CZU Lightning Complex fire is only 84% contained as of this morning, the fire has stopped growing. The size of the burn zone has been at 86,509 acres for a full week now.
But as fires continue spreading across the state, the number of personnel at the local fire has dropped. There are currently 810 firefighters at the CZU Lightning Complex. Cal Fire continued to lift and reduce evacuation restrictions in the Boulder Creek area yesterday. Other parts of San Lorenzo Valley, Bonny Doon and the Swanton Road area remain closed.
Santa Cruz County Chief Sheriff’s Deputy Chris Clark told reporters yesterday that if anyone needs to enter the evacuation zone to assess their property or bring in an insurance adjuster, they should call the sheriff’s office at 831-471-1121. “We’ll set up an escort for you,” he said.
Clark said 510 customers in the San Lorenzo Valley Water District are on a do-not-drink order and 271 customers are without water service.
Water quality issues could extend beyond the San Lorenzo Valley. On Tuesday, Santa Cruz Water Director Rosemary Menard warned the Santa Cruz City Council that the ashy debris from the fire could cause contamination problems in the city’s water supply over the months to come. Menard said the city is working on restoration efforts before the rainy months to mitigate those challenges.
The Cabrillo College shelter site for fire evacuees has closed. The Santa Cruz County Fairgrounds shelter is still open.
The smoke in the greater San Francisco Bay Area made national news this week, with many comparing the fire-red skies to the 2017 Blade Runner movie reboot. The smoke came from fires around the state that was trapped above the marine layer locally.
Wildfires have now burned two million acres this year, a Cal Fire spokesperson told the Associated Press on Monday, making 2020 the worst fire year on record since the state first started keeping track in 1987. Historically, September and October are often the worst months of the year, when it comes to fire damage.
Sept. 4, 11am: Some Bonny Doon residents return home as county surveys damage
Having burned 86,509 acres, the CZU Lightning Complex fire has destroyed 1,490 structures, including 928 homes as of this morning. With 1,777 personnel now on the scene, firefighters have contained 56% of the fire.
Currently, 8,221 residents are evacuated—down from a high of 77,000. Portions of Bonny Doon saw evacuation orders lifted yesterday. Last night, local Cal Fire Chief Deputy Jonathan Cox and Santa Cruz County Deputy Chief Chris Clark told reporters that efforts are shifting from firefighting to recovery and repopulation.
“We understand how frustrating that is for folks—displaced from your homes and then wondering when you’re going to get back home,” Clark said.
He said the sheriff’s office is working with PG&E, Cal Fire and the Department of Public Works on repopulating areas that were most affected by fire. That includes making road repairs, removing debris and making sure fires are fully extinguished. As Santa Cruz Mountains residents move home, Clark encouraged them to look around their properties to make sure they don’t see any smoldering materials that could reignite.
It could be three weeks before PG&E restores energy, Clark said. He explained that he and his colleagues have been hearing from mountain residents who have lived without power before and are ready to move home. Many of them have generators, he added. He indicated that the sheriff’s office may allow some residents to return before PG&E fully restores power.
Water infrastructure suffered serious damage in the CZU fire, including in Davenport and Boulder Creek. As GT reported yesterday, the San Lorenzo Valley Water District elaborated on its do-not-drink order for many Boulder Creek residents, as well as efforts to restore water service to affected customers, in a community Zoom meeting.
There are other kinds of damage in the burn zone as well.
Santa Cruz County Public Works Director Matt Machado said the county has submitted an initial damage assessment to the state and listed out damage totaling $340 million, including $310 million to homes and other buildings on private property. He said the county will update the assessment several times. The state Office of Emergency Services and FEMA, he said, are reviewing documents now to begin approving debris removal and restoration projects.
After yesterday’s press conference, Machado told GT that the fire destroyed 400 street signs, which the county is working on replacing.
“We’re probably going to do a lot of temporary signs because it’s just a huge effort to get them all permanently,” he explained. “We think that all the critical ones will be up in the next couple weeks as we repopulate. Then we’ll go back and do full restoration as we can.”
Public works is additionally working on fixing two bridges—one of which was fully destroyed—and three culverts on Swanton Road.
To learn more about the recovery process, visit the county’s recovery website here: santacruzcounty.us/FireRecovery.aspx.
With the repopulation of some areas, the Santa Cruz County Emergency Operations Center (EOC) is now shifting attention to the needs of people who have been displaced from their homes.
Shelter population has declined by more than two-thirds since the repopulation process began, said Santa Cruz County spokesman Jason Hoppin. The EOC started the wind-down process at the Congregational Church of Soquel, the Coastlands Aptos Foursquare Church, Twin Lakes Church in Aptos and Santa Cruz Civic Auditorium.
Shelter sites remain open at the Santa Cruz County Fairgrounds in Watsonville, Seventh Day Adventist Conference Grounds in Soquel, Cabrillo College in Aptos, Harbor High School in Santa Cruz, and Simpkins Family Swim Center in Live Oak. The county is now in the process of transitioning shelter operations at those spots to the American Red Cross.
The Recovery Resource Center at Kaiser Permanente is offering about 20 resources under one roof, including services from the state DMV, FEMA, CalOES, Red Cross, Cal Fresh, County Environmental Health, Friends of County Parks and a list of federal, state and local agencies and nonprofits.
Sept. 2, 10am: A do-not-drink order, a look at the Grand Jury’s report, and more
As of this morning, the CZU Lightning Complex fire has burned 85,467 acres and destroyed 1,490 structures, including 928 homes. With 2,224 personnel now on the scene, firefighters have contained 46% of the fire.
The Santa Cruz County Sheriff’s Office has continued lifting evacuation orders for the San Lorenzo Valley. However, the San Lorenzo Valley Water District (SLVWD) has a do-not-drink order in place for communities north of Alba Road. For the latest on SLVWD water quality, visit slvwd.com. For the latest on evacuations, visit community.zonehaven.com or monitor the social media pages for Cal Fire CZU or the Santa Cruz County Sheriff’s Office.
This week, GT revisits a local Grand Jury report that warned in July of serious wildfire risk and cautioned that fire agencies and homeowners might be unprepared. We also cover the strain that the dueling crises of the pandemic and a wildfire are having on local service providers.
Two New York Times writers profiled Tad Jones, a Last Chance resident and the only known victim of the CZU Lightning Complex fire to date. Jones, who lived without electricity or plumbing, took a vow of silence that lasted decades. He delighted in feeding quail, peacocks, blue jays and foxes, the Times reported. Jones’s sister described the animals as being some of his closest friends.
The story documents how many other Last Chance residents barely escaped with their lives, with little warning from fire officials. “They left us for dead,” said Ian Kapostins, a Last Chance resident.
On Tuesday, Reuters covered an emerging trend in the Santa Cruz Mountains and other places: Wealthy people are paying for private fire brigades—among the ways the wealthy insulate themselves from natural disasters. One such firm charges $300 to $5,000 per hour, depending on the job. “What bothers me is the inequities—what kinds of people will get help—when public resources are stretched thin,” said Char Miller, a professor of environmental history at Pomona College in southern California.
Also, Santa Cruz County Sheriff’s Office Chief Deputy Chris Clark announced Friday that deputies had arrested a suspect in connection with a pipe bomb found in Boulder Creek.
Lastly, the Santa Cruz County Emergency Operations Center has announced a hotline for evacuees utilizing the free hotel program managed by the state of California and supported by FEMA. CZU Lightning Fire Complex evacuees may call 831-454-2181 for assistance in the following areas:
- General program questions
- Current evacuees not yet placed at a hotel and applying for the program
- Evacuees already placed at a hotel calling to renew their seven-day reservation if they are within 24 hours of their reservation’s check-out date
Aug. 31, 10am: Central Coast, Bay Area fires have leveled more than 1,500 structures
Five major fire events throughout the Central Coast and Northern California have destroyed at least 1,509 structures, various Cal Fire units announced Sunday morning.
The SCU Lightning Complex, the River Fire, the Carmel Fire, the CZU Lightning Complex and the LNU Lightning Complex have chewed through 892,313 acres across 15 counties. There have been 14 injuries and six deaths. The fires have also forced tens of thousands of residents to evacuate their homes over the last two weeks.
Several of those evacuation orders had lifted by Saturday. All Monterey County residents ordered to flee their properties because of the River and Carmel fires were allowed to return home, as firefighters continued to make headway in both of those battles.
Many residents on the outskirts of the SCU fires have also returned home. But the heart of the 377,471-acre fire event near a mesh point of Santa Clara, Alameda, Stanislaus and San Joaquin counties remained off-limits. That complex is the second-largest fire event ever recorded in the state’s history—it has swapped positions with the ongoing LNU Lightning Complex burning in Napa, Sonoma, Solano, Yolo and Lake counties over the last week—and has scorched mostly uninhabited land.
That has not been the case with the CZU Lightning Complex. That fire has charred 84,640 acres as of Sunday morning and flattened 1,177 structures—nearly all of them in Santa Cruz County. That includes at least 726 residences, the majority of them in and around the Santa Cruz Mountain towns of Boulder Creek and Bonny Doon. The county of Santa Cruz created an interactive damage assessment map to track the devastation.
Those numbers, which Cal Fire has said will continue to increase as it pushes further into the fire zone, make it the ninth-most destructive fire ever recorded in the state. The LNU fire is 10th.
Watch Cal Fire’s video here for an explainer of how they inspect the status of buildings.
Santa Cruz County on Saturday opened the Kaiser Permanente Arena—the home of the Santa Cruz Warriors—as a resource center where county residents impacted by the fire can find assistance from federal, state and local agencies and various nonprofits. That center at 140 Front St. in Santa Cruz is open daily from 11am to 7pm.
Residents and business owners impacted by any California wildfire are also urged to register with the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the U.S. Small Business Administration to receive federal disaster assistance.
Help is available online at disasterassistance.gov or by calling the FEMA helpline at 800-621-3362. A community recovery page has also been set up at santacruzcounty.us/firerecovery.aspx with details on additional resources.
Disaster survivors who are deaf, hard of hearing or have a speech disability and use a TTY may call 800-462-7585 to register. Those who use 711 or Video Relay Service or require accommodations while visiting a center may call 800-621-3362.
Some residents of Santa Cruz and San Mateo counties were allowed to repopulate in recent days. The local Cal Fire unit has lifted fire evacuation orders for the UCSC campus, the city of Scotts Valley, Lompico, Zayante and eastern portions of the San Lorenzo Valley. Many of the areas of San Mateo County affected by the fire evacuations have also been allowed to repopulate.
Gov. Gavin Newsom in a Friday afternoon press conference said there were some 14,600 firefighters battling fires across the state.
Aug. 28, 7:30am: Number of structures lost continues to climb; Scotts Valley evacuees return
The CZU Lightning Complex fire has now destroyed 799 structures, all but 11 of them in Santa Cruz County, investigators have found. Of those, 554 were residences.
Those numbers are likely to continue to grow. Local Cal Fire Chief Deputy Jonathan Cox said Thursday that investigators had only covered 65% of the burn area. Cox added that a tree fell on a structure yesterday and destroyed it—a reminder, he said, of how unsafe the area continues to be.
The size of the CZU Lightning Complex is now only slowly increasing, having burned 82,540 acres, and it is 26% contained. It now threatens 13,300 structures, Cox told reporters. That’s a decline of 45% since Monday.
Cal Fire lifted evacuation orders for residents of Scotts Valley, Paradise Park, Pescadero and La Honda. Another 52,000 residents remain evacuated. Currently, 2,019 firefighting personnel are on the scene.
- Operations Section Chief Mark Brunton told reporters last night that a foggy marine layer helped with the firefighting effort on the ground Thursday morning, but it also stopped aircraft from attacking the blaze. Once the sky cleared up, Cal Fire started flying six water-dropping helicopters over the fire.
- Brunton said the coastal vegetation is especially scorched along Highway 1—more so than in any other area. “It’s very noticeable once you drive up Highway 1 and look up. And, definitely from the air, you can see quite a bit of destruction to that area of the vegetation,” he said.
- Although the fire has extended into portions of Boulder Creek, Brunton said that much of the fire is staying high up on the ridge between Bonny Doon and Ben Lomond. One challenge, he explained, is managing “rollout,” where burning trees and other material starts tumbling down hill.
- Brunton said it’s possible, however, that some San Lorenzo Valley residents may be able to reenter their homes before crews fully contain the fire along the ridge.
- Incident Commander Billy See said crews have a lot more work to do on clearing up the Highway 1 corridor, which also has debris rolling downhill.
- Santa Cruz County Deputy Chief Chris Clark said firefighters discovered what appeared to be a pipe bomb near the Boulder Creek golf course. The sheriff’s bomb squad is investigating.
- Local Cal Fire Chief Ian Larkin encouraged those curious about the state of evacuations to visit community.zonehaven.com.
- Clark and Larkin both stressed that many steps go into repopulating an area that has burned. Those steps include making sure that the electricity and other utilities are up and running.
- Additionally, fuels can stay hot for a long time. Larkin and other fire officials have said that crews will be keeping an eye on the burn zone for months to make sure it doesn’t reignite.
Aug. 26, 8pm: 579 structures lost; UCSC reopening; ‘rough’ timeline for lifting evacuations
The number of acres burned by the CZU Lightning Complex fire is up to 81,137, local Cal Fire Deputy Chief Jonathan Cox told reporters tonight.
So far, investigators have found that the fire destroyed 579 structures in Santa Cruz County. The number of structures lost in San Mateo County is still 11. Also today, firefighting crews expanded containment on the fire from 19% to 21%. The fire is threatening 24,000 structures.
Santa Cruz County Sheriff’s Office Chief Deputy Chris Clark told reporters that deputies cited a 73-year-old man who had evacuated and tried to make it back to his home in the evacuation zone. Clark said the man got lost on a mountain trail and spent two nights in the woods before officers found him. He said the sheriff’s office used 120 hours of officer time, an ambulance and a helicopter on the search-and-rescue effort. Additionally, one member of the search-and-rescue team suffered an injury.
Clark said detectives reduced the number of missing persons from six down to three. The three remaining local missing persons are 70-year-old Henry Reinke (last seen Aug. 20), 21-year-old Shane Smith (last seen Aug. 20) and 37-year-old Micah Szoke (last seen Aug. 15). Clark does not believe the three men are fire victims but detectives aren’t sure. “Hopefully, if you hear these names and you know ’em, you’ll either tell ’em to call us or you call us, which we’d greatly appreciate,” he said.
Clark gave a rough outline for when law enforcement will repopulate the evacuated areas. He said it would be “a day or days”—being intentionally vague about the timing—before Scotts Valley residents could return to their homes
“I say ‘day or days’ because things can change, and I don’t want to give anyone false hope, but I also want to give a rough framework,” Clark said.
He said it could be a week before officers allow Felton to repopulate. Residents of areas, like Boulder Creek and Bonny Doon, that are closer to the fire will be waiting more than a week, he added.
Incident Commander Billy See said the number of fire personnel grew by nearly 300 today. There are now 1,982 personnel working on the incident.
Local Cal Fire Chief Ian Larkin suggested that those who have suffered property damage do one of three things for assistance. They may visit disasterassistance.gov, download the FEMA app, or call 800-621-FEMA. Businesses that have suffered losses may contact the Small Business Administration.
The Santa Cruz County Office of Emergency Operations Center has released a map of properties damaged in the fire. Santa Cruz County declared a state of emergency yesterday. The declaration allows the county to receive California Disaster Assistance Act revenue and other federal disaster relief funding.
Aug. 25, 7:30pm: 432 structures in Santa Cruz County lost as containment reaches 19%
The number of structures burned by the CZU Lightning Complex is up to 443, with all but 11 of them in Santa Cruz County, investigators have found. The other 11 are in San Mateo County.
The fire, now 19% contained, has burned a total of 79,640 acres.
Earlier today, Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-Palo Alto) rode with Sheriff Jim Hart to see the emergency operations center at the Santa Cruz County Sheriff’s Office and the evacuation center at the county fairgrounds. She praised the work of the sheriff’s office, Cal Fire, county agencies and the community. “These are first-rate professionals,” she told reporters. “The progress that’s been made is really quite remarkable.”
Local fire officials have lifted evacuation orders in Santa Clara County, although a larger fire in Santa Clara County continues to burn.
Operations Section Chief Mark Brunton says the control lines on the south of the fire are holding well and that the fire is not threatening the city of Santa Cruz.
Cal Fire has reported that, over the last 15 days, 1.28 million acres—an area bigger than the state of Delaware—has burned across the state of California.
Aug. 25, 9:45am: Fire 17% contained; 330 structures destroyed
The containment level of the CZU August Lightning Complex fire continues to increase, but so does the number of confirmed destroyed and damaged structures.
Cal Fire officials at a press conference this morning said the blaze in the Santa Cruz Mountains is now 17% contained and that it had only grown by roughly 200 acres overnight, for a total of 78,869 acres, or about 123 square miles.
Officials also said the fire has now chewed through 330 structures, 319 of them in Santa Cruz County and the rest in San Mateo County.
The majority of destroyed structures (246) were residences, Cal Fire said.
“That number is only going to increase,” Cal Fire Incident Commander Billy See said.
Cal Fire Operations Section Chief Mark Brunton said that there is no major firefront as of this morning. Though people might see flames or smoke creeping through areas of the mountains, Brunton said those pose no threat at this time.
“[The fire] is doing exactly what we want it to do,” he said.
Much of the fire that was moving toward Santa Cruz has been extinguished, and the community of Davenport was secure as of this morning, Brunton said. There is also no current threat to Felton.
Cal Fire has focused much of its resources in the Boulder Creek area. That includes six water-dropping helicopters that on Monday doused the flames with 200,000 gallons of water, Brunton said.
He said those efforts will continue today, as visibility has improved since the fire has started to smolder.
Santa Cruz County Sheriff’s Chief Deputy Chris Clark said his office has picked up three new missing person cases, and that Empire Grade in the Felton area is now “impassable,” underscoring the dangers of returning to the area at this time.
Otherwise, it was a “relatively quiet night,” Clark said. Deputies had 11 calls for service, six of them reports of suspicious people.
In neighboring Monterey County, firefighters were also making headway against the River and Carmel fires. The latter is now 33% contained and the former is 30% contained. Combined, they have scorched more than 55,000 acres in the Salinas and Carmel valleys.
Aug. 24, 8pm: Fire 13% contained; Highway 9 corridor still a challenge
The CZU Lightning Complex fire has now burned 78,684 acres, or some 123 square miles, and is 13% contained. It has destroyed 276 structures, the majority of them in Santa Cruz County, local Cal Fire Chief Jonathan Cox told reporters this evening. The blaze is still threatening an additional 25,000 structures.
Cal Fire has 1,609 personnel fighting the fire. Six helicopters dropped 200,000 gallons of water on the fire today, Cal Fire Operations Section Chief Mark Brunton said. The most challenging part of the fire response right now is the western slope along the Highway 9 corridor, which has a steep topography and a number of homes and businesses.
One person has died in the fire. CBS News reported that the fire victim found in the Last Chance Road area was likely trying to flee the area when he died. The victim was a 70-year-old man.
Meanwhile, 33 law enforcement officers, including sheriff’s deputies, were patrolling the San Lorenzo Valley today. Officers conducted 11 welfare checks, made two arrests and issued two citations, Santa Cruz County Chief Deputy Chris Clark said.
“If you’re in the evacuated area, you shouldn’t be there. It’s against the law. We understand and we empathize with someone’s desire to go there, but if you’re in the evaluated area, you’re going to get a citation,” Clark said.
Deputies previously arrested five looters Friday. More information came out about the suspect who stole a Cal Fire commander’s wallet over the weekend. The thief attempted to drain the victim’s bank account. Cal Fire released security camera stills of the suspect shopping at a Shell gas station in Santa Cruz. He also visited the Safeway on 41st Avenue, Clark said.
Action is underway across the county to help those in need during the fire, while heavy smoke has blanketed the region. Santa Cruz County is distributing N-95 respirator masks to Pajaro Valley agriculture workers to protect them from smoke inhalation.
A donation center on 114 Walker St. in Watsonville is accepting non-perishable food items, family-sized tents, sleeping bags, sleeping pads, blankets, pillows, tarps, and ice chests/coolers. People can also donate hand sanitizer, personal hygiene products, toiletries, large plastic storage bins, coloring books and crayons.
The donation center and temporary shelters are looking for volunteers, too. Visit scvolunteercenter.org for more information.
Aug. 24, 1pm: Fire not expected to reach city of Santa Cruz
There were good opportunities to attack the fire yesterday, Cal Fire Operations Section Chief Mark Brunton said in a morning update. The video of that update includes a map and explainer of where firefighters are working to create control lines and suppress the fire. The fire has destroyed 176 residences, six commercial buildings, and 49 other structures. Some 77,000 people have been evacuated.
For the latest updates on services for evacuees or how to volunteer and donate, check out the Santa Cruz County twitter feed.
Federal assistance will be available for fire survivors, too, following a presidential disaster declaration. Survivors can go to disasterassistance.gov and begin the application process. Spanish speaking survivors can go to disasterassistance.gov/es. Survivors can also call 1-800-621-3362 with any questions.
The Red Flag Warning that began yesterday and was expected to extend through this evening has been canceled after the storm system that prompted the warning weakened.
City of Santa Cruz Fire Chief Jason Hajduk said in a press release today that “crews have made great progress on securing line and containment on the southern end of this fire, which is what the threat was to our city. I am confident that the fire will not reach the city of Santa Cruz at this point.”
Still, given the unpredictability of fires, the city asked residents to help protect against fire threats by preparing their homes. Steps include bringing flammable materials inside and removing flammable vegetation.
Several local USPS offices have closed temporarily due to the fire. Any county residents who have had disruptions to their mail service are being directed to alternative mail pickup locations. Find more info here.
Aug. 23, 8:50pm: 74,000 acres burned, 163 structures destroyed
The CZU Lightning Complex fire has now burned 74,000 acres and destroyed 163 structures. Of those structures, 152 were in Santa Cruz County, and 11 were in San Mateo County. The fires in the complex have merged, and the incident is now essentially one big fire, although there have been a few very small spot fires outside the perimeter of the main fire.
There currently are 1,511 personnel, including firefighters, working on responding to the fire.
The Santa Cruz County Sheriff’s Office announced today that deputies recovered the body of a missing person in the Last Chance Road area. “I wish I could report on something positive, but I can’t,” Santa Cruz County Chief Deputy Chris Clark told reporters.
Both Clark and San Mateo County Sheriff’s Detective Rosemerry Blankswade warned of scammers who are looking to take advantage of others, amid the emergency. Some scammers have claimed to be fire victims and have called up locals asking them for money, they said.
Earlier this afternoon, Sheriff Jim Hart announced that he is increasing the number of deputies in the evacuated areas, and District Attorney Jeff Rosell stressed that suspects will be prosecuted. Deputies have arrested five looters.
Cal Fire extended evacuations, including around the summit, today.
Cal Fire officials briefly put today’s outdoor press briefing on hold and moved it inside because it was interrupted by a rain shower, a welcome sight.
Less favorable weather conditions could be on the way this evening, with the potential for heavy winds and more dry lightning—the same types of conditions that first created the fires that are burning throughout the region right now.
The second- and third-biggest fire events in California history are burning across various counties in the Bay Area.
The SCU Lightning Complex fire in the counties of Santa Clara, Alameda, Contra Costa, San Joaquin and Stanislaus is 10% contained, having burned 343,965 acres.
The LNU Lightning Complex in the counties of Napa, Sonoma, Lake, Yolo and Solano is 17% contained having burned 341,243 acres.
Aug. 23, 9:30am: Red Flag Warning goes into effect
CalFire officials said this morning the CZU Lightning Complex fires are now 8% contained.
Weather was on firefighters’ side yesterday as a marine layer moved into the Central Coast and wind died down. This allowed for more air support, including helicopters that bombarded the area with water drops.
“We had a really good success yesterday,” said Cal Fire Operations Section Chief Mark Brunton. “We were able to jump on it and accomplish a lot of our strategic priorities.”
However, officials are bracing for another challenge as a Red Flag Warning went into effect this morning.
Local meteorologists are anticipating the chance of possible thunderstorms, including dry lightning and strong winds with little to no rain in the next 24 hours.
Brunton said Cal Fire is doing everything it can to prepare for the upcoming weather.
“It will give us challenges, but we are ready to meet those challenges head-on,” he said.
Cal Fire San Mateo-Santa Cruz Deputy Chief Jonathan Cox said the blaze has now scorched 71,000 acres, and 129 structures have been lost. About 1,349 officials are now working on the fire, including out-of-state agencies.
The Santa Cruz County Sheriff’s Office Chief Deputy Chris Clark gave an update on what law enforcement agencies are doing to keep people out of the evacuation zones. Officers have been dealing with not only worried residents trying to get back to their homes, but some looting and suspicious activity.
Clark reported that a suspect had entered a Cal Fire’s ground commander’s vehicle and stolen personal items, including his wallet, and attempted to drain his bank account.
“It’s sickening to see people taking advantage,” he said.
Clark also warned residents about possible phone scams. Residents have reportedly been receiving calls from people claiming to be agencies such as PG&E, asking them to provide them with gift cards or transfer money.
“Do not do it,” Clark said. “If you get a call from any of those agencies … contact the agency directly, and confirm if it’s legitimate. I’ll tell you, 99.9% of the time it’s not.”
The sheriff’s office is also conducting welfare checks. They ask anyone who might be worried about someone to call 831-471-1121.
All Cal Fire officials at the press conference today urged people to leave the evacuation zones immediately, which will help firefighters tremendously in their continued efforts in battling the fire.
“The general public is still in the evacuation zones,” Brunton said. “If you’re in an evacuation zone, please leave. My firefighters need a safe environment to work …. Know that they will protect everything possible out there that they can.”
San Mateo County law enforcement officials at the press conference urged people to stop visiting the coast. Half Moon Bay beaches have been closed, but they say they have still seen a good amount of people traveling to the coast.
“We need to rally together, Bay Area,” one sheriff’s detective said. “You never know when this is going to be your town, your city, your homes. Please, don’t come to the beaches. Do not come to the coast.”
Aug. 22, 9am: Fires now 5% contained; firefight marks ‘big win’
Seven days into the battle against the CZU Lightning Complex fires, Cal Fire officials announced this morning that they were able to get their first “jump” on the growing blaze in the Santa Cruz mountains.
Although the fire grew overnight to 63,000 acres, or roughly 98 square miles, firefighters were able to increase containment to 5%.
Cal Fire Operations Section Chief Mark Brunton said firefighters were able to set up a “firebreak” between Highways 1 and 9 just above the UCSC campus and the city of Santa Cruz. He called it “a real big win.”
“It’s not the silver bullet there, but it gives us a really good stronghold, a control point in which to keep the fire from moving southward into those communities,” Brunton said.
The fires, however, did make runs to the west and southeast toward the communities of Davenport, Boulder Creek and Ben Lomond. A 5-acre spot fire also started in Felton, but firefighters were able to jump on it very quickly.
“Again, it shows the tenacity of this fire,” Brunton said. “That’s a long way from the fire’s edge.”
Cal Fire San Mateo-Santa Cruz Deputy Chief Jonathan Cox said the number of confirmed destroyed structures stands at 97, but Brunton said that there were additional structures lost overnight. That, he said, was going to continue until further resources arrived to help the 1,157 firefighters battling the blaze.
Firefighters across the state are stretched thin. More than 560 fires have sparked in California, charring more than 771,000 acres—an area the size of Rhode Island. That includes the SCU Complex fires that have burned 290,000-plus acres in neighboring Santa Clara County. Just south in Monterey County, the River and Carmel fires have ripped through nearly 50,000 acres combined.
Gov. Gavin Newsom said in a press conference Friday that additional resources would soon pour into California from neighboring states. He has also asked for mutual aid from Canada and Australia.
Cal Fire officials back in the Santa Cruz mountains said they received multiple calls for rescue from people who had not yet evacuated, including some false calls for rescue that Brunton said puts first responders in jeopardy. Responding to those calls “takes our plan and throws it out the window,” Brunton said.
“We ask that, unless it’s an actual rescue, please do not call,” he said. “And for those people who are in those areas, we [evacuated] for a reason.”
Aug. 21, 9pm: Looters arrested; fires span 57,000 acres, 2% contained, with crew sizes growing
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 Steve Clark, who is serving as unified incident commander for the fire, said 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 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 battling the blaze. Detectives, meanwhile, are looking for two people who 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.
Also, the county health department is advising residents to keep an eye on air quality. Residents may monitor the local air quality at air.mbard.org. Those with a history of heart and lung conditions, in particular, should limit their exposure to smoke, including by staying indoors in rooms with filtered air, especially as the air quality reaches unhealthy levels.
The overlap of the Covid-19 pandemic with the fires has the potential to cause confusion.
Some symptoms, like dry cough, sore throat and difficulty breathing, can be caused both by wildfire smoke exposure and by Covid-19. More information about Covid-19 symptoms is available on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website.
Aug. 21, 1pm: Newsom addresses size of California fires
Gov. Gavin Newsom has announced that California’s firefighting crews are now trying to suppress 560 fires, most of them stemming from dry lightning strikes that first began Sunday, Aug. 16.
Statewide, 771,000 acres—an area the size of Rhode Island—have burned over the past week.
“These fires are stressing our resources, stressing our personnel,” Newsom said during a press conference, regarding the LNU Lightning Complex fires that are burning in Sonoma, Napa, Solano, and Lake counties. Yesterday, Newsom was in Watsonville, where he gave his address for the Democratic National Convention.
Fire conditions may improve slightly as the weather cools, he said, but he also said the state could see more dry lightning, due to a new monsoon pattern.
As containment at fires in Southern California has improved, state officials have begun shifting crews to Northern California and to the Central Coast, where the fires are currently much worse.
Newsom thanked states that have provided mutual firefighting and equipment, including the states of Arizona, Nevada, Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Utah, Montana, and Texas. Those crews are on their way, he said.
Newsom mentioned that, on a trip through Santa Clara County yesterday, he saw San Jose firefighters as they made a pit stop. He said they looked wiped out when they told him, “We need more support.”
“They were simply overwhelmed by what they saw,” Newsom said. “They were on a quick stop. They were getting some gas and getting some drinks. And they said, ‘We’re just going to the hotel down the block. We’re taking a shower, and we’re told we have to get right back on the line.’”
Aug. 21, 9am: 50,000 acres burned; residents who didn’t evacuate need rescuing
Firefighters and law enforcement officers were pulled away for three separate rescue incidents to save residents who were trying to protect their homes while battling the CZU August Lightning Complex fires, which have now charred 50,000 acres, or roughly 78 square miles, as of Friday morning.
Cal Fire officials at a press conference this morning reiterated their calls for residents to follow evacuation orders.
“We ask, if you have been asked to evacuate, do not put yourself in that situation and do not put our first responders in that situation,” Cal Fire Operations Section Chief Mark Brunton said.
At least 64,000 people have evacuated, including Scotts Valley residents who were ordered to leave Thursday evening. UCSC was also ordered to evacuate Thursday.
Asked when residents can expect to return to their homes, Santa Cruz County Chief Deputy Chris Clark said it would not be any time soon.
“It could be weeks, depending on what this fire does,” he said.
The fire is still 0% contained, but Cal Fire officials said cooler nighttime temperatures and the return of a coastal marine layer are helping calm conditions. Crews are also getting relief from an influx of hundreds of additional firefighters, which bumped the total responding to the blaze up to more than 1,000.
Cal Fire San Mateo-Santa Cruz Deputy Chief Jonathan Cox said he expects the local crew sizes to continue to grow.
Fires centered in Santa Clara County and Napa County have each grown to more than 200,000 acres. Although those fires have been burning just five days, each has joined the list of the 10 biggest wildfires in state history.
The River Fire in Monterey County has grown to 39,464 acres. The Carmel Fire jumped more than 1,000 acres to 4,732. The River Fire is now 9% contained, while the Carmel Fire is still 0% contained.
Santa Cruz County said today that additional shelters have opened:
- Santa Cruz Bible Church, 440 Frederick St., Santa Cruz. Room for 76 evacuees as well as parking.
- Seventh Day Adventists Conference Grounds, 1931 Soquel-San Jose Rd., Soquel. (Full)
- Congregational Church of Soquel (parking only), 4951 Soquel Dr., Soquel. Bathrooms available for evacuees.
- Twin Lakes Church (parking only), 2701 Cabrillo College Dr., Aptos. Room for up to 50 cars and RV’s, bathrooms, water and food available.
- Cabrillo College Lot K (parking only), 6500 Soquel Dr., Aptos.
- Shelter at the Santa Cruz County Fairgrounds remain open.
- Shelter at the Santa Cruz Civic Auditorium remains open but is full.
Find more county resources, including up-to-date info on which shelters are full, in English and Spanish at santacruzcounty.us/FireResources.aspx.
Aug. 20, 7:30pm: Fire burns 8,000 more acres; Scotts Valley evacuates
The CZU Lightning Complex fires grew by about 8,000 acres Thursday and are about 48,000 acres, local Cal Fire Deputy Chief Jonathan Cox said in a press conference this evening. The fire event is still 0% contained.
So far, Cal Fire has been able to confirm that 50 structures have burned, but Cox expects the full number to climb into the triple digits. The fires are threatening 20,900 more structures.
Law enforcement has now evacuated some 50,000 residents in Santa Cruz County and San Mateo County in response to the fires.
Some of the latest mandatory evacuations have included most of the city of Scotts Valley.
Evacuation warnings are in effect for UCSC and the Paradise Park community near Pogonip city park. Local fire crews have received additional personnel to assist with the firefighting. Operations Section Chief Mark Brunton said the fire threat has lessened around the coast, but the beachside town of Davenport is still threatened. Incident Commander Billy See said the weather conditions should be shifting to become more favorable—higher humidity levels and lower temperatures. But he said he was fearing a significant burn over the coming night, adding that this area often burns more at night, when the wind patterns change. Officials stressed that those who have evacuated should not yet go back to check on their homes.
Santa Cruz City Fire Chief Jason Hajduk released an announcement Thursday saying that city fire crews are battling the fires alongside other crews. He said that no Santa Cruz residents need to evacuate.
He made the following suggestions for how city residents can prepare:
- Prepare yourselves and families
- Assemble a “GO” bag for your home and car
- Gather important documents and heirlooms
- Prepare your pets
- Locate your pet carrier and food supplies
- Prepare your home
- Gather and secure flammable items from outside your home
- Stay informed
- Sign up for immediate updates from SCR 911 (Santa Cruz Regional 911) at Code Red: public.coderedweb.com/CNE/en-US/218A80E36F49
- Follow the evacuation map (updated resource): storymaps.arcgis.com/stories/f0121f7f2f0941afb3ed70529b2cee75
- Follow Cal Fire CZU on Twitter: twitter.com/CALFIRECZU
- Follow the #CZULightningComplex hashtag
Aug. 20, 12:30pm: Visitors asked to leave
The Santa Cruz County Emergency Operations Center is requesting that all tourists and visitors occupying local overnight accommodations such as hotels, motels and vacation rentals leave immediately to free up shelter capacity.
Local shelters are near capacity. The Emergency Operations Center is working with local agencies including cities, colleges and universities, school districts and others to increase capacity. But “the scale of existing and anticipated evacuation orders is unprecedented and the need to safely house evacuees is critical,” the county noted in a press release today.
People leaving can go south on Highway 1 or north on Highway 17. New visitors should not travel to the county.
Evacuees should first seek shelter with friends and family. The current evacuation map is here. For information on evacuation accommodations, call 211 or Red Cross at 1-866-272-2237.
The county is asking people with extra capacity to volunteer in-law units, spare bedrooms and even tents for evacuees.
The county also needs donations of tents and cases of water. These can be delivered to the county warehouse at the rear of the Emeline complex, 1082 Emeline Ave., Santa Cruz.
Aug. 20, 9:40am: Fires threaten structures and are 0% contained
The CZU August Lightning Complex fires have burned more than 40,000 acres, destroyed 20 structures and are threatening 8,600 structures, fire officials told reporters early Thursday morning.
The CZU August Lightning Complex moved overnight from the west side of Empire Grade and was threatening structures on the eastern slope, moving toward Boulder Creek and Ben Lomond and the San Lorenzo Valley. It is threatening the communities of Pescadero, La Honda, Bonny Doon and Brookdale.
More than 20,000 people have been evacuated from the areas threatened by the incident, officials said.
It is 0% contained. Residents of Davenport were evacuated late Wednesday. Cal Fire also ordered all of Felton to evacuate Thursday morning.
The fire event is not happening in a vacuum. Gov. Gavin Newsom announced Wednesday afternoon that, in a period of extreme heat, the state of California experienced 10,849 lightning strikes within 72 hours. Crews, he said, were battling 367 known fires.
Santa Cruz County Chief Deputy Chris Clark, echoing sentiments from fire officials, stressed the importance of heeding evacuation commands. Not doing so, he said, puts both the residents and firefighters in danger.
The officials said that all county residents should be ready to evacuate.
“I really can’t stress more the importance of leaving when those orders come out,” Clark said.
The Santa Cruz County Sheriff’s Office used 160 officers—both their own and from neighboring jurisdictions—to help with evacuations yesterday. They made contact with roughly 25,000 residents.
California State Parks, meanwhile, has closed Año Nuevo, Big Basin Redwoods, Butano, Castle Rock, Henry Cowell Redwoods and Portola Redwoods state parks.
The fire on Tuesday caused extensive damage at Big Basin State Park, including the headquarters and campgrounds.
Heavy smoke conditions have made it challenging to get a read on where the fire complex is and isn’t, or even how big it is. The fact that it’s a “complex,” though, means that the incident contains at least two fires.
The smoke has been too thick for aircraft to fly near the blaze, Cal Fire Operations Section Chief Mark Brunton said at a press conference Wednesday night.
He added that crews could also be waiting another couple days before they’re ready to begin aerial attacks on the burn.
It’s unclear where the damage has hit thus far, but Brunton said Wednesday that some structures in the Swanton Road area had burned.
Brunton said the northern part of the fire complex was encroaching on Pescadero and on La Honda, while the southern portion was burning around the Empire Grade region pushing west.
Local Cal Fire Deputy Chief Jonathan Cox said the region had not burned in more than 50 years, and there are old-growth trees there. That gives the fires lots of fuel and also makes them tougher to fight, he explained. “This is not an area you can drive into or walk into,” he said. A full week without fog, he said, had added to the especially dry conditions.
Cal Fire is working together with the Santa Cruz County Sheriff’s Office and the San Mateo County Sheriff’s Office on responding to the fire.
Communication will be key. A recent Santa Cruz County Grand Jury report found that Santa Cruz County’s fire agencies need to improve communications and that they are unprepared for high fire risk. The report also argued that the county’s residents had grown complacent and did not have an adequate fear of the threat that fire potential poses to the region.
California typically supplements its Cal Fire crews by culling additional help from the prison inmate population. This year, however, many of those prisoners were released from prison early due to concerns about prison crowding amid the Covid-19 pandemic, making them unavailable and thereby cutting down on the size of crews in the field.
Meanwhile, various Cal Fire units are competing over limited resources during a moment in which an alarming number of fires—many of them in Northern California and on the Central Coast—are burning simultaneously.
As of Thursday morning, the North Bay’s LNU Lightning Complex is 0% contained and has burned 131,00 acres. The SCU Lightning Complex, centered mostly in Santa Clara County, was 5% contained and had burned 137,000 acres. The River Fire near Salinas had burned 33,000 acres and was 7% contained.
Cal Fire officials said evacuees should try to find family or friends that they are comfortable staying with before they turn to evacuation centers to limit the possible spread of Covid-19.
Evacuation centers have been set up at Half Moon Bay High School (1 Lewis Foster Dr, Half Moon Bay), the Santa Cruz Civic Auditorium (307 Church St.) and the Santa Cruz County Fairgrounds (2601 E. Lake Ave., Watsonville).