Loma Fire Grows, But Cool Weather Coming

     SANTA CRUZ, Calif. (CN) — Cooler weather has helped firefighters gain the upper hand on the Loma Fire burning in the Santa Cruz Mountains about 30 miles southwest of San Jose, California, but Cal Fire is bracing for high winds on Friday.
     According to Cal Fire, the blaze has nearly doubled in size since Wednesday and is now more than 3,800 acres. But containment has also grown to 22 percent contained and some evacuation orders are being lifted. The blaze has destroyed one home, damaged another and razed a half dozen other structures. It currently threatens 325 buildings.
     “Right now, we’ve got cooler weather today and we should be making good progress on the fire. We have lines in place and we are just trying to reinforce those lines, make them wider,” Cal Fire Capt. Mike Perez said early Wednesday.
     Perez said warmer weather and winds up to 35 mph are expected on Friday, which makes fighting the blaze more difficult. The fire is burning in steep terrain filled with brush, and the wind can blow the flames up and down the hills with amazing speed. About 600 more firefighters from across the state bolstered the 1,100 that already battling the fire on Wednesday, and more are coming.
     “Right now, our total personnel is 1,762 and we still have firefighters that are coming in from all over. They will be funneling in today and tomorrow, just trying to take advantage of the weather,” Perez said.
     The Santa Cruz Mountains divide Silicon Valley from Santa Cruz County and the Monterey Bay. Most of the fire is in Santa Clara County, running along the ridgeline of the mountains.
     While many roads in the area remain closed and evacuation orders are still in force for many residents, all evacuation orders and warnings have been lifted for Santa Cruz County. Officers from the Santa Cruz and Santa Clara counties’ sheriff’s departments have been handling evacuations and protecting homes, Perez said.
     Full containment is expected by Oct. 3.
     The blaze began Monday afternoon as a house fire. The exact cause is still under investigation with both Cal Fire investigators and local law enforcement looking at evidence, Perez said.
     Soon after it started, a hot, dry wind carried embers over roads and ignited hot spots all over the mountains. It happened to be the hottest day of the year and by that evening, the fire had grown to about 1,000 acres. Residents in the mountains quickly packed and left.
     Dave Kegebein, manager of the Santa Cruz County Fairgrounds nearby, said four alpacas were the first refugees to arrive Monday night at the shelter the Red Cross had set up at the fairgrounds. Flames could be seen in the mountains about 20 miles away.
     There have been other major fires in the region in the past 15 years. In 2002, the Croy Fire burned more than 3,000 acres and destroyed 31 homes and 15 other buildings. In 2008, the Summit Fire burned 34 homes, mostly in Santa Cruz County in the hills just above Corralitos. And in 2009, the first Loma Fire scorched 485 acres and destroyed three buildings.
     Ron Ince, who lives in Corralitos about 15 miles from the fire, said Wednesday that he could see flames leaping from the hilltops above his home at night.
     “It’s not as close as in 2008, but it’s still scary. It’s eerie. It’s a really big fire,” he said.

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