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March 3, 2021

Freedom Fire forces evacuations just north of Watsonville

SANTA CRUZ COUNTY—Heavy winds pummeled the Central Coast Monday night and into Tuesday, causing numerous power outages, scores of power lines to crash to the ground and several wildland fires, including a large one just north of Watsonville.

Dubbed the Freedom Fire by Cal Fire’s San Mateo-Santa Cruz Unit, the blaze had chewed through at least 37 acres as of Thursday morning and forced about 100 homes near White Road and Freedom Boulevard in the Aptos-Larkin Valley area to evacuate.

Those residents were allowed to return home Wednesday afternoon after firefighters lifted evacuation orders for all fires in Santa Cruz County, including the Panther Ridge Fire five miles north of Boulder Creek. Cal Fire said 20 homes were evacuated when that 20-acre blaze began its spread, but that it was mostly contained as of Thursday morning.

Cal Fire said the Freedom Fire was also nearing containment Thursday, and that it would have containment on most fires sparked by the high winds by the end of the day. That includes the Bonny Doon Complex, the China Grade Fire and the Bloom Fire, which together had charred more than 48 acres in the Santa Cruz Mountains.

No structures have been damaged, and no injuries to first responders have been reported.

The cause of the Freedom Fire is still under investigation.

The Red Cross and County of Santa Cruz established a temporary evacuation center for those displaced by ongoing fires at Corralitos Community Church, 26 Browns Valley Rd. in Corralitos.

Pacific, Gas, and Electric Company also set up a community resource center at Enterprise Technology Center in Scotts Valley, 100 Enterprise Way, for those still without power in the northern reaches of the county.

Earlier in the week, about 25,000 county residents were without power as numerous power lines were toppled by strong winds. On Thursday, power had been restored to most Watsonville and South County customers but nearly 10,000 customers were still without power north of Scotts Valley.

UPDATE (1:40pm, Jan. 20)

Evacuation orders for the Freedom Fire have been lifted, the Cal Fire San Mateo-Santa Cruz Unit announced Wednesday afternoon.

Cal Fire CZU also announced that most, if not all, fires in Santa Cruz County are expected to be contained by this evening.

More than 100 acres burned across the Santa Cruz Mountains. No homes were destroyed and there have been no injuries reported.

UPDATE (10:20am, Jan. 20)

The Cal Fire San Mateo-Santa Cruz Unit on Wednesday morning said the Freedom Fire burning just north of Watsonville was 50% contained.

The blaze, which forced the evacuation of roughly 100 homes in the Aptos-Larkin Valley area, has grown to about 37 acres since igniting early Tuesday.

No other evacuations are expected at this time.


SANTA CRUZ COUNTY—Heavy winds pummeled the Central Coast Monday night and into Tuesday, causing downed power lines, numerous power outages, and several fires, including one just north of Watsonville.

Dubbed the Freedom Fire by Cal Fire’s San Mateo-Santa Cruz Unit, the 40-acre blaze has forced people in about 100 homes to evacuate from various roads in the Aptos-Larkin Valley area. That includes Nunes, Gillette and Halton roads and Bens Way off White Road, along with nearby Willow Heights off Freedom Boulevard.

Cal Fire announced Tuesday around 3:19pm that the fire, first called the Nunes Fire, was 20% contained. No structures have been reported damaged.

The Red Cross and Santa Cruz County have established a temporary evacuation center for those displaced by ongoing fires, including the Panther Ridge Fire, which is burning in Boulder Creek. That fire had charred around 10 aces as of Tuesday afternoon and was 55% contained.

Located at Corralitos Community Church, at 26 Browns Valley Road in Corralitos, a temporary evacuation center will provide residents displaced by the fires with refreshments, resources and links to services including longer-term shelter, if necessary.

As of 10am Tuesday there were more than a dozen fires sprinkled around Santa Cruz County and around 10 reports of power lines down. Numerous roads have been closed due to downed power lines and fallen trees. Several trees crashed into homes around the county.

By 8am Tuesday, Central Fire called for all available fire personnel to report to duty due to the overload of calls.

In Corralitos off of Day Valley Road, a utility pole transformer exploded, alarming residents in the area.

A tree fell over Vega Road near San Miguel Canyon Road, forcing fire crews to close Vega Road around 7:30am.

At least three fires opened up in the burn zone of the CZU Lightning Complex fire in the Santa Cruz Mountains.

Check the Cal Fire CZU Twitter feed for the latest updates:

Reporter/photographer Tarmo Hannula contributed to this story.

Tony Nuñez
Tony Nuñez
Managing Editor Tony Nuñez is a longtime member of the Watsonville community who served as Sports Editor for five years before entering his current role in 2019. A Watsonville High, Cabrillo College and San Jose State University alumnus, he covers the city, business, housing, entertainment and more.


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