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CZU Complex Fire Update: 5 Suspected Looters Arrested; Firefighters Rescue Trapped Residents; At Least 97 Structures Destroyed

SCOTTS VALLEY (KPIX) -- A massive timber fire burning in the heavily wooded Santa Cruz Mountains continued to ravage homes as it grew to 57,000 acres Friday evening with firefighters staging at least three rescues of trapped residents and five suspected looters arrested.

At Cal Fire's Friday evening news conference, officials said the complex of fires, including the timber blaze, comprising the CZU August Lightning Complex, had grown to 57,000 acres, destroyed at least 97 structures with that figure expected to climb into triple digits and has forced 64,600 people from their homes.

There was 2 percent containment of the fire complex and more than 1,000 firefighters had been deployed to wage battle with the flames.

The Santa Cruz County Sheriff's Department said they received calls Friday morning, reporting looters in the Fall Creek Rd area. Deputies were dispatched to the area and spotted two suspicious vehicles.

They attempted to traffic stop -- one of the cars stopped, but the other attempted to flee and ended up in a ditch.

Jose Gandarilla, Susana Luna, Crystal Araujo, Sara Loretz and Crystle Parstch-Lucchesi were all arrested on numerous charges including looting, grand theft, conspiracy to commit a crime and burglary.

A small army of more than 1,000 firefighters battled the fire after it ripped through the Bonny Doon area overnight, burning homes.

"Overnight we again, experienced more significant fire behavior throughout the fire," Cal Fire Battalion Chief Mark Brunton said. "We did see a little bit of a marine influence of some moist air that came into the incident earlier in the evening although that was short lived. When it receded back our fire conditions increased significantly."

Brunton said the Boulder Creek area was hit hard overnight.

"We did see more active fire on the eastern part of the fire. This did impact some of the communities from Boulder Creek and Ben Lomond and further south," he said. "I'm sorry to say there was more structure loss to the fire. Again, the fire conditions, lack of resources, we are doing the best we can."

Brunton also urged local residents to evacuate when ordered and not try to take matters into their own hands. Firefighters were forced to reallocate much needed resources to stage at least three rescues of trapped residents overnight.

"There were a number of fantastic saves by first responders -- not only the firefighters but our law and order brothers and sisters," Brunton said. "One of the things that continues to hamper us -- We do have the evacuation in place and they are in place for a reason. Not only for the public's safety and the safety of our first responders, but with that when people do stay behind and do try to take matters in their own hands with trying to suppress fires it creates a bigger issue for our first responders."

"Those that stay, and last night we had three separate rescues that pulled our vital, very few resources away (from fighting the fire to having) to rescue those individuals because they put themselves in peril," he added. "They are not trained firefighters and I know they are trying to do the right thing for their property and neighbors, but in the long run it has created a bigger problem."


While no fatalities have been reported, law enforcement officials said they were investigating at least one missing person's report on Friday morning.

The area under evacuation orders and warnings early Friday in the Santa Cruz Mountain area stretched from La Honda to the north, to Skyline Blvd. to the east, to the Pacific Ocean to the west where it has forced the closure of a stretch of Highway 1 to UC Santa Cruz in the south.

Fire officials said it could be weeks before residents are allowed to return to their homes.

"Cal Fire has been around more than a hundred years and there really hasn't been a fire of this magnitude in this area," said Cal Fire Battalion Chief Matt Wallen. "We're having a hard time combating the fires so we're doing the greatest good for the residents by assuming that defensive role going from house to house and firing out around the house."

Among the areas ravaged by the fire was Big Basin Redwoods State Park, a favorite getaway for Bay Area resident. The headquarters buildings have all been turned to rubble, but fortunately most of the majestic ancient redwoods remained stand Friday.

Meanwhile, Felton was among the many mountain communities evacuated Thursday. Thick smoke enveloped homes and businesses as local resident hurriedly loaded up their vehicles to flee.

"The fire's right up the hill," said Damien Mason. "We're getting out of here."

Just like many evacuees, Mason grabbed what he could fit in his vehicles before heading to family in the Bay Area.

"I've been in the mountains almost all of my life and never had to evacuate," he said.

Danielle Banks said deciding what to take and leave behind was difficult.

"You know that you need the bare essentials and everything else could be replaced," Banks said. "It's overwhelming, you just want to grab one more thing and you can't." Susan Thompson and her husband Wayne Thompson packed their car with their animals and belongings before Scotts Valley was officially evacuated Thursday evening.

"We're thinking about what's not replaceable, what has meaning," Susan Thompson said.

"My concern is that the valley that I know and love will not be here in a week but I just keep my fingers crossed," said Garrett Gordon, who lives in Boulder Creek.

Allen Strong, who decided to stay at a friend's business in Ben Lomond, said he refused to heed evacuation orders.

He said he had been dousing his friend's bakery and other nearby buildings to save what structures he could.

"I'll run to the house all the way in the back, there's a swimming pool there and me and my dog will be in that pool sipping for air," he said. "This is real, I mean look at it, it's pretty crazy."


San Mateo County:

• Communities of Loma Mar and Dearborn Park Area (Zone SMC E018)
• Pescadero Creek County Park Area (Zone SMC E024)
• Butano Community Area (Zone SMC E098)
• Butano State Park Area including Barranca Knolls Community (Zone SMC E019)
• Butano Creek Drainage (Zone SMC E055)
• South Skyline Blvd. Area near Highway 9 (SMC E049)
• Russian Ridge Open Space Reserve Area (Zone SMC E027)
• Middleton Tract Area (Zone SMC E044)
• Portola Redwoods State Park and the Portola Heights Community Area (Zone SMC E048)
• Pescadero Beach Area (Zone SMC E073)
• Pescadero Creek County Park Area (Zone SMC E075)
• Bean Hollow Area (Zone SMC E042)
• Pescadero Area (Zone SMC E043)
• San Gregorio Area (Zone SMC E022)
• La Honda Area (Zone SMC E028)
• Red Barn Area (Zone E010)
• Russian Ridge Open Space Area (Zone SMC E027)
• Skylonda Area (Zone SMC E012)
• Langley Hill Area (Zone SMC E10)

An evacuation center is located at Half Moon Bay High School, 1 Lewis Foster Drive, Half Moon Bay, CA 94019.

Santa Cruz County:

• University of California Santa Cruz, campus only (Zone: SCZ 4)
• Paradise Park (Zones: CRZ 63, CRZ 64)
• All Scotts Valley residents West of State Route 17 (Zones: SCO 1-5, SCO 7, SCO 14-20 SCO 21 - SCO 25)
• Area east of Zayante Canyon, west of State Route 17 and south of State Route 35 (Zones: CRZ 18, CRZ 19, CRZ 20)
• Pescadero Beach Area (Zone SMC E073)
• Pescadero Creek County Park Area (Zone SMC E075)
• Bean Hollow Area (Zone SMC E042)
• Pescadero Area (Zone SMC E043)
• San Gregorio Area (Zone SMC E022)
• La Honda Area (Zone SMC E028)
• Red Barn Area (Zone E010)
• Russian Ridge Open Space Area (Zone SMC E027)
• Skylonda Area (Zone SMC E012)
• Langley Hill Area (Zone SMC E010)

• Waterman Gap Loop, Upper HWY 236, Boulder Creek Golf Course, Heartwood Hill, Lodge Road, Community of Little Basin, Lower China Grade, Upper China Grade, Community of Kings Hwy, Lower Jamison Creek, Gallion Heights, Fallen Leaf Neighborhood, Foxglove Lane (Zones CRZ10, CRZ13, BOU36, BOU20, BOU30, BOU31, BOU36, BOU37, BOU21)
• Saratoga Toll Road, San Lorenzo Park, Riverside Grove-Community of Teilh Drive, Wildwood Road (BOU38, BOU39, BOU40, BOU41, BOU42, BOU43)
• Everyone on Empire Grade Road, from Felton Empire north, all of Pine Flat Road, all of Ice Cream Grade, Bonny Doon Road, in between Pine Flat Road, Martin Road, and all associated side streets are under an evacuation order. (CRZ1, CRZ2, CRZ3, CRZ4, CRZ5, CRZ10, CRZ11, CRZ12, CRZ13, CRZ14, CRZ15)
• Bonny Doon south of Ice Cream Grade, to include Pine Flat Road South is now under an evacuation order. (CRZ7, CRZ8)
• Areas of Alba Road, Hubbard Gulch and Fanning Grade. (BEN 1)
• All areas of Ben Lomond (Zones BEN 2 – BEN 5)
• All areas of Zayante Canyon (Zones ZAY 1-ZAY 17)

Evacuation Warnings, Santa Cruz County:

• University of California Santa Cruz, campus only (Zone: SCZ 4)
• All areas adjacent to the Bonny Doon and San Lorenzo Valley should be prepared to evacuate if necessary. (CRZ7, CRZ8)
• Areas west of Highway 9 to Empire Grade
• South from Bear Creek Road to Felton, this includes Ben Lomond.

Evacuation Centers

Santa Cruz County Fairgrounds, 2601 E. Lake Avenue in Watsonville
Santa Cruz Civic Auditorium, 307 Church Street, Santa Cruz (AT CAPACITY)
Santa Cruz Seventh Day Adventist Camp Grounds, 1931 Soquel San Jose Rd

Road Closures

San Mateo County
• Pescadero Creek Road between Alpine and Cloverdale Rd.
• Cloverdale Road between Pescadero Creek Road and Gazos Creek.
• Alpine Road between Pescadero Creek Road and Skyline
• Whitehouse Canyon Road at Highway 1
• Portola Heights Road at Skyline

Santa Cruz County
• State Route 1 at Shaffer Road
• State Route 9 at Alba Road
• Empire Grade at Heller Drive
• Felton Empire Road at Featherston Way

© Copyright 2020 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. Bay City News contributed to this report


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