SANTA CRUZ, Calif. (CN) — A wildfire in the Santa Cruz Mountains about 30 miles southwest of the Silicon Valley has forced mandatory evacuations after growing to 2,250 acres.
According to Cal Fire, the blaze is now about 10 percent contained and has destroyed one home, damaged another and razed six other structures. It currently threatens 300 buildings and has been very difficult to deal with.
“The fire is burning in steep, inaccessible terrain covered in dry brush due to the drought,” said Cal Fire Battalion Chief Paul Van Gerwen, public information officer for the San Francisco Bay area.
Dubbed the Loma Fire, the blaze began as a house fire Monday afternoon. The exact cause is still under investigation, but soon after it started a hot, dry wind carried embers over roads and ignited hot spots all over the mountains, Van Gerwen said. 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, 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.
“We’ve had some horses join them since then,” he said. “But no people, yet. It’s much cooler today and I think Cal Fire is getting it under control.”
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 ridge line. Many people live in the mountains, some in homes that are nearly mansions, others in tiny old cabins. Van Gerwen said that most people have heeded the mandatory evacuation order.
“You just have to get out of there with as much stuff as you can and hope for the best,” said Bernie Gonzalez, who was doing some grocery shopping after evacuating. He said he was staying with friends in Scotts Valley until it was safe to return.
Cal Fire predicts full containment by Oct. 3.
Nearly 100 firefighters gathered at a staging area off Summit Road on Tuesday, making preparations to return to the fire. Sheriff’s officers from both Santa Clara and Santa Cruz counties were also on hand to direct traffic and close roads. According to Van Gerwen, more than 1,000 firefighters from departments across the state have joined the effort that involves more than 100 engines, 23 helicopters and six air tankers. One firefighter reported a minor injury, but no residents have been harmed so far.
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 he can 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 eery. It’s a big fire,” he said.
According to Cal Fire’s incident information webpage, there are 11 wildfires tearing through California from Kern County to the Oregon border. The agency is also gearing up for Santa Ana wind season in Southern California, when hot, dry hurricane-force gales can create extreme fire danger from October through December.
And although much of California has spent the first week of fall baking in summer heat, meteorologists predicted the return of autumn-like temperatures by the weekend.
Top photo: The Loma Fire rages in the mountains above the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk Monday night. (Chip Scheuer)
Lower photo: A DC-10 drops fire retardant on the Loma Fire Wednesday morning. (Contributed)
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