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September 26, 2022

Sheriff’s Office announces 1st death; fire now 13% contained

Update (Aug. 24, 7am):

The CZU Lightning Complex fire has burned 78,000 acres, or approximately 122 square miles, as of this morning, according to an update from Cal Fire. The fire is now 13% contained

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. 

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.


UPDATE (Aug. 23, 8:50pm): 74,000 acres burned, Sheriff’s deputies recover body

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.

The Santa Cruz County Sheriff’s Office announced that deputies recovered the body of a 70-year-old man in the area of Last Chance Road.

“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 was 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 evacuation warnings, including around the summit, today. 

There currently are 1,511 personnel, including firefighters, working on responding to the fire.

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 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 has spread to seven counties, including neighboring Santa Clara County, and 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.


August 23, 8am:

CalFire officials this morning announced that the CZU August Lightning Complex fires that have been burning in Santa Cruz and San Mateo counties for the past week 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 which 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 that 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 that the blaze has now scorched 71,000 acres and that 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 one of Cal Fire’s ground commanders’ vehicles 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 operating welfare checks. They ask anyone who might be worried about someone to call 831-471-1121.

All Cal Fire officials at the conference 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.”

For updated fire resources including evacuation information visit santacruzcounty.us/fireresources.aspx.

Johanna Miller
Reporter Johanna Miller grew up in Watsonville, attending local public schools and Cabrillo College before transferring to Pacific University Oregon to study Literature. She covers arts and culture, business, nonprofits and agriculture.

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