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August 19, 2022

County clears out | About Town

A few days ago I rode my bike through downtown Santa Cruz and out by the wharf and the Beach Boardwalk. It was empty. Almost lifeless.

Our mostly blue sky was sure a welcome sight Monday. So was the cooler air that drifted in from the Pacific Ocean. I’m short of words on how to describe the relief I feel to see the smoke from the CZU August Lightning Complex Fire thin out. That awful brownish-orange curtain that wafted over our communities since Sunday appears to be breaking up. Phew!

One helpful tip my stepson  gave us has turned out to be valuable: Create a safe room in your home. Close the windows and press a rolled up towel against the base of the door to help seal out smoky air. On the first day we tried this with one of our bedrooms, by early afternoon we noticed a big difference: the room was not only cooler but it did have better air quality than the rest of the house. It’s refreshing to visit the room over the day, even if just for a few minutes now and again.

I was at a press conference Sunday where Sheriff Jim Hart and DA Jeff Rosell spelled out some very touch language about looters in the fire evacuation areas. Recently deputies stopped two cars near Felton, arrested five suspects and found that their cars were packed full of household goods. In another case a man reached into a firefighter’s car and swiped his wallet. He then gutted the victim’s bank account and visited a few area stores on a free-wheeling spending spree using the stolen credit cards. Police  posted a video image of the suspect and have a detective working the case.

Cal Fire said the CZU fire has now burned 123 square miles. On Friday, Pajaronian reporter Todd Guild and I drove through Scotts Valley and north on Hwy 9. It was eerie, not only from the evacuation and the ghost town feeling, but also the thick layer of smoke. North of Boulder Creek we drove further into the mountains on narrow winding roads to find a bunch of homes that had been burned to the ground. The only things standing, on most lots, were stone fireplaces, remnants of appliances, metal bed frames, a child’s wagon, or the burned husks of people’s cars and trucks. To lose everything in a flash like that surely must be a crushing thing to have to live with. I hope these folks can rebuild and regain some semblance of a home and community soon.

If the fires that are ravaging our state weren’t enough, we’re still in the center of the coronavirus pandemic. As of this morning there are 80,120 cases in the San Francisco Bay Area; Santa Cruz County has 1,636 cases; Monterey County, 7,274 and San Benito County, 978.

Governor Gavin Newsom said he will announce new guidelines for reopening some businesses before the week’s end.

Tarmo Hannula
Tarmo Hannula has been the lead photographer with The Pajaronian newspaper in Watsonville since 1997. He also reports on a wide range of topics, including police, fire, environment, schools, the arts and events. A fifth generation Californian, Tarmo was born in the Mother Lode of the Sierra (Columbia) and has lived in Santa Cruz County since the late 1970s. He earned a BA from UC Santa Cruz and has traveled to 33 countries.


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