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June 2, 2023

CZU Lightning Complex Fires hit one-year anniversary

SANTA CRUZ COUNTY — Monday marked the one year anniversary of the CZU Lightning Complex Fires that raged through 86,509 acres in the Santa Cruz Mountains, killed one man, burned close to 1,500 buildings and stacked up a tab of $2.4 billion in insured losses.

Fighting the fire alone brought a hefty tab of around $68 million. Thousands of people had to be evacuated in that 925 residences were burned across the mountain towns of Boulder Creek, Ben Lomond, Felton, Bonny Doon and Zayante.

To mark the occasion, Gov. Gavin Newsom, U.S. EPA Administrator Michael S. Regan and FEMA Region 9 Administrator Robert J. Fenton Jr. visited Big Basin Redwoods State Park to discuss the state and federal wildfire recovery efforts underway in communities across the state. They also sharpened their focus on the climate crisis that is fueling catastrophic wildfires and other devastating impacts in the Western U.S.

“We have a deep responsibility to support our communities recovering from wildfires, and that commitment doesn’t end when the world’s attention has moved on. The state will continue to work with federal partners to ensure our resilient communities have the help they need to get back on their feet and rebuild,” Newsom said. 

In September 2020, Newsom surveyed damage at the park with fire and emergency response officials. 

“Here at Big Basin, it’s clear that the existential climate crisis we face is not only a threat to our future, but to our storied history and the natural wonders that shape California as we know it,” he said. 

More than 97% of Big Basin, California’s oldest state park, was burned in the fire, including most of the park’s buildings, campgrounds, trail networks, electrical lines and other infrastructure, according to the governor’s office. 

In sync with warnings from fire officials this year — and based on the ongoing drought — the 2021 fire season is marching across numerous counties, coughing up huge curtains of smoke and sending thousands fleeing in last minute evacuations.

On Tuesday and Wednesday nights thousands had to evacuate from the Caldor Fire, southwest of Lake Tahoe, where flames chewed through more than 64,474 acres in El Dorado County. Firefighters have zero percent containment, according to Cal Fire.

Meanwhile, the Dixie Fire, the state’s second largest fire on record, at more than 678,369 acres (or more than 995 square miles), remains at 35% containment. Burning in Butte, Plumas, Tehama, Lassen and Shasta counties, the wild land blaze continues to send a blanket of smoke that has reached the Monterey Bay area on and off for over a month. Sunsets in Watsonville recently have been swallowed in orange gauze and a brownish orange tint is evident at dawn and dusk.

The Dixie and Caldor fires are two of 15 fires Cal Fire deems as significant blazes around the state. They have charred more than 1,385,719 acres and burned 1,834 buildings in 2021. Compared to 2020, there were 4,257,863 acres and 10,488 structures burned.

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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